Fees drive over-25s away

13th February 1998 at 00:00
Ben Russell on the first evidence of the effect of Government policy on universities

Thousands of mature students have abandoned plans to enter university following the Government's decision to introduce tuition fees this year, according to figures released today.

University applications from the over-25s are down by nearly 20 per cent, while those from the 21-25 age group fell by more than 13 per cent on 1997, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service said. Applications from under-21s were down by just under 2 per cent.

Overall applications were down 4.2 per cent by the December 15 deadline, slightly less than was feared.

The figures give the best evidence yet that the decision to abolish grants and introduce Pounds 1,000-a-year tuition fees has deterred certain groups of would-be students. Nearly 9,000 fewer students aged over 21 applied compared with the same time in 1996.

UCAS stressed that applications could still be submitted and pointed to a late surge in forms received by the beginning of this month. University admissions last year exceeded targets by 26,000 as students scrambled to avoid the fees.

Education leaders and MPs expressed concern about the long-term effect of fees on adult students.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "This indicates very strongly that older people are being deterred by the advent of tuition fees. More than 50 per cent of students in higher education are mature and that is the area where we hope to expand. It's a foolish policy and what they ought to do is scrap it."

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Students said question marks hung over the effects of fees on women, Asian students, and disabled people.

She said: "We are very concerned about people who are already disenfranchised from higher education. Why would a student leave a job or go from unemployment into higher education when they are laying themselves open to debt? We are also very worried about access students who will think again about education. "

Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: "People who give up work to study full time make a huge investment in their own future. The less help they get the bigger debt and the less likely it is they choose to do it."

Judith Norrington, of the Association of Colleges, warned: "There is a greater deterrent the older you are. Somebody might say: 'I know I can get a better job if I go to higher education, but I can't afford to stop work and study'. "

Professor John Craven, vice- chancellor of Portsmouth University, said his staff had already noticed falls in applications from mature students. He said: "Our anecdotal evidence is that students on access and other mature student routes have dropped off. It's more so this year because some rushed in for 1997 entry. It's not the fees which have caused it as much as the loss of the grant."

He said more alternatives to full-time study such as workplace-based higher education or part-time degrees may be needed.

Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, which represents Britain's universities, said: "We are concerned about the mature student issue. Confusion over the new scheme led to the slow start and then the rush of applications by school-leavers for the December deadline. With mature students, who traditionally apply later, we're seeing the same pattern."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today