Drop in mature HE applications is a ‘warning sign for ministers’

30 January 2012

The figures from UCAS show a 7.4 per cent drop in applications across the UK. While there has been a small drop in applications from 18 year olds of 2.6 per cent, broadly in line with demographic trends, among those aged over 21 there has been a more significant slump of 11 per cent. Applications from 23-year-olds are down 13.5 per cent, 10.7 per cent for 24-year-olds and 11.8 per cent for those aged 25 to 29.

While the overall drop of 8.7 per cent among UK-only applicants (including a 9.9 per cent drop in England) is not as dramatic as some had predicted, especially given last year’s spike in applications, the drop in mature applications is concerning and should act as a warning sign for ministers, particularly given their commitment to widening participation and social mobility.

Paul Stanistreet, NIACE Policy Lead for Higher Education, said:

“Although many mature students apply directly to institutions, the drop is significant enough to raise serious questions about the extent to which increased fees are acting as a deterrent to mature applicants.”

“Clearly, further analysis of the figures will be necessary, particularly around the impact on different socio-economic groups, but it is clear that much more needs to be done to effectively communicate the new loans system to mature learners, as well as to understand their attitudes to loans and their distinct support issues.”

“A drop in mature applicants would seriously dent the government’s ambitions around social mobility and economic renewal and sends an unfortunate message with regard to the emerging shape of the reformed HE sector.”