A new report, produced by the Independent Commission on Fees, has confirmed that the total number of university applicants has fallen by as much as 8.8 percent since the introduction of higher fees. This is equivalent to a 37,000 fall on the figures from 2010-11.
Under the new tuition fees system, as much as £9,000 per year could be charged to people wanting to pursue their education. The decision to increase the cost of tuition fees caused controversy in the UK, with a large proportion of students taking to the streets of London and elsewhere in late 2010 to protest the move. And since then, the government has been accused of failing students from less affluent backgrounds and making university an unattainable goal for a significant chunk of the population.
According to the Commission, the figures can be partially explained by the falling number of young people who make up the population. Meanwhile, despite what some protestors have claimed, there does not appear to have been a disproportionate drop-off in application numbers from disadvantaged young people.
"Although it is too early to draw any firm conclusions," Will Hutton, Chair of the Commission, explained, "this study provides initial evidence that increased fees have an impact on application behavior."
He added: "There is a clear drop in application numbers from English students when compared to their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. On a positive note, we are pleased to see that, at this stage, there has been no relative drop-off in applicants from less-advantaged neighbourhoods.
"We will continue to monitor a range of indicators as the fee increases work their way through the system."
In addition to the change in tuition fees, Dr Mike Short, the President of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, cited ongoing economic woes as one of the reasons why the number of applications has fallen. Students, he said, are reconsidering whether pursuing their academic interests makes financial sense in the long term.