Students who gained average results at GCSE were the most likely to be put off from applying to university because of the rising cost of tuition fees, new figures suggest.
The decision to lift the cap on fees from 2012 – allowing universities to charge up to £9,000 a year – led to a sharp drop in applications, with almost 50,000 fewer students looking to enter degree courses that year. Although numbers have since risen, they are still below 2011 levels.
And now figures from university admissions body Ucas show that it was middle-ability students who largely account for the fall.
The analysis is the first to link GCSE results with the likelihood of applying to university, and shows that applications from the highest-performing students remained broadly constant over the increase in fees and applications from the lowest performers actually increased. However, a slump in applications was concentrated among students who had a GCSE score of between 40 and 56 points.
For students with 56 points – roughly the equivalent of nine B grades – applications fell by 5.9 per cent in 2012 and have since levelled off, with a similar pattern for students with 48 points. Students with 40 points also experienced a drop, although subsequent increases have reversed this trend.
The GCSE points scores range from one for a G grade to eight for an A*.
The biggest increase in applications has been from students with 32 points, with 20.4 per cent of students applying for university this year, more than treble the 5.7 per cent who applied in 2006.
James Moncrieff, assistant principal at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College, said the increase in fees had made some students think twice about applying for university.
He suggested that schemes to widen participation in higher education among some previously under-represented groups – such as through bursary schemes – may have helped offset the effect of fees on lower-performing students.
“It may be that some middle-achieving students have had to think more carefully about what they want to do and not sleepwalk into university,” he said.
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