Once again, the data shows everyone was wrong about tuition fees

Buried by the news of a mother giving birth, the latest data from UCAS about applications in the UK for full time undergraduate higher education shows a remarkable sequence of good news:

  • Demand for higher education from young people is at or near record levels for each country of the UK in 2013.
  • Application rates for 18 year olds in England have risen in 2013, resuming historical trends.
  • Application rates for young, disadvantaged groups have increased to new highs in England.
  • Analysis of application rates by English regions shows that whilst relative demand is highest from pupils in London and lowest in the North East, patterns are changing over time with demand growing fastest amongst pupils in the North West.

No wonder then UCAS Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook said:

“Young application rates for higher education are rising again after falls in 2012 and the gap between rich and poor is closing as disadvantaged groups are applying at record levels.

“Our new analysis of demand by ethnic group shows that white pupils at English schools now have the lowest application rate of any ethnic group. There has been significant growth in demand from black pupils.

“There are eye-catching regional variations in demand, with the north of England generally showing higher growth rates than the south.”

As with earlier figures showing a closing in the gap between the most disadvantaged and the most advantaged areas in England, this data shows everyone was wrong about tuition fees. As I said then:

Since the changes to tuition fees in England we’ve seen the gap in applications between the most advantaged and the most disadvantaged areas of the country drop sharply.

That’s the opposite of what critics of the merits of the new system warned about – and indeed not even its keenest supporters that I could find were predicting such an improvement.

Those pesky teenagers have made fools of everyone…

The latest figures show teenagers continuing to do just that.


Note: these figures are all for the proportion of people applying for university, and so they allow for changes in the size of the population. They are however for applications, rather than for acceptances, and so are an important part, but not the whole part, of the picture. For more on both these factors and how to make sure you draw sensible conclusions from the data see my post Three ways to make sure you’re talking sense on student numbers, tuition fees and all that. The final paragraph of that post is also still very applicable:

There is actually a fourth, more general, point to bear in mind too: the new tuition fees system is rather complicated, most obviously evidenced by it not being a system of up front fees, yet the widespread prevalence of that very phrase in online comments about it. So it’s well worth taking some time to (try to!) understand how it really works. This film from Martin Lewis rather good on that.


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