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.

4 responses to “Once again, the data shows everyone was wrong about tuition fees”

  1. I think claiming that ‘everyone was wrong about tuition fees’ is a bit of an exaggeration.
    My disagreement with the fees system is that it is unfair because it places a burden on this generation of students that previous generations didn’t have to bear, particularly most of the MPs who voted it through.

  2. Keep attacking that Straw Man. I can’t actually remember anybody saying anything about kids from disadvantages backgrounds being put off going to university – if they did then it was certainly no the main concern about fees. The main concern was always about the debt burden being placed on future generations and its distribution between graduates/non-graduates and those on different graduate incomes after they left university. My objection to the dreadful system is that it places too great a burden on graduates and that is disproportionately hits people one middle incomes whilst allowing those on higher graduate incomes to pay less. Tuition fees are strictly regressive in the fiscal sense – high earning graduates will contribute a smaller proportion of their lifetime earnings compared with graduates on lower incomes. This is the complete opposite of Lib Dem policy on HE funding for many years, which was based on progressive taxation.

    • Steve
      I think however it is important to bear in mind two points.
      – if you are worried about the fairness of the system, then generally those which are traditionally classed as the higher earners (doctors, engineers etc) within the system tend to spend more time within the industry & therefore accrue a higher debt.
      – the fees should incentivise potential students to look at the potential gains from their degree & assess whether it is worth it. In recent years there has been a big rise in students taking “worthless” (from an employment perspective) courses. I’m sorry if it upsets but in reality how many “media studies” graduates do we actually need! For a long time there has been an unrealistic expectation that everybody should try & attend university & this is simply put no not the best idea for all students. As an employer I’ve seen hundreds of cv’s from graduates but most are completely unqualified for the job they are applying for. They tend to have little life skills, no experience & their degree has covered nothing that an employer is ever likely to find useful. Let’s be clear here there is are a large amount of students that put very little if any thought into: why this course, what’s it going to give me when I qualify?
      Lastly it’s worth mentioning FE is a choice, there is nobody forcing someone to attend, like all choices it should have a financial implication attached. We are supposed to educating these kids, well the real world has charges, taxes & expenses attached to it – it’s time everybody grew up & accepted that fact!

  3. Neil, I don’t think everything that previous generations received from
    the state should automatically be received by future generations. Previous generations only had to pay a standard VAT rate of 8%.
    That doesn’t make it wrong that we now pay 20% VAT. Previous
    generations emitted too much CO2, but that doesn’t mean future
    generations are entitled to emit the same amount. Reforms are needed to
    meet the changing demands of modern society. With far more young people
    going to University than previously and with growing understanding on
    the importance of early years education to help everyone get on in life,
    we need to reassess how we spend money on education. I think it is fair for graduates to make a substantial contribution to the higher education they have received.

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