In November 2010, UCAS was receiving applications for the last year of £3,000 tuition fees as students protested across the country over the change to £9,000 fees.
As the admissions cycles since have unfolded, the Analysis and Research team at UCAS have tracked how applications and admissions have changed. Bringing all that analysis together means that, four years on, we can now answer the five key questions about the higher tuition fees.
Was there a 'rush to apply' ahead of the higher fees?
Probably not. Application rates for that last cycle were more or less on trend. What did happen was that there was a 'rush to get in' to that final 2011-12 academic year. Applicants who did apply were much more likely to opt to start straight away rather than defer to 2012-13, and an increase in acceptance rates drove record recruitment to the 2011-12 year.
Did higher fees reduce young demand?
Yes. Young application rates fell in 2012 after a long pattern of annual increases, making young people around 5 per cent or so less likely to apply than expected. But higher fees do not seem to have slowed the long term trend of increasing demand. Application rates increased at around their long term trend in both 2013 and 2014, so that demand is now at the highest ever levels. But it is likely that application rates remain a little below what they would have been if higher fees had not been introduced.
Did higher fees reduce young people's chance of entering higher education?
No. When we look at entry rates, particularly those that take into account entry at ages 18 and 19, the proportion of the young population entering higher education has continued to increase steadily as higher fees were introduced.
So young demand fell but entry rates were unaffected?
Exactly. Universities and colleges have become more likely to admit those young people who apply, enough to offset the lower demand. Overall universities and colleges did see a fall in recruitment (to the 2012-13 academic year), but around half of this was due to swings in deferred entry.
By 2013, universities and colleges were making more offers to applicants and being more flexible in entry requirements. The acceptance rate increased and many young A level applicants were entering universities and colleges at a rate that, in 2011, would have needed a single extra grade across their three A levels.
Has inequality in accessing higher education increased with higher fees?
No. In terms of demand, entry and type of institution, differences by background have reduced over this period.
This time four years ago much of the concern over the higher fees was understandably focused on those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. But neither application rates nor entry rates have shown any differential effect by background. This has allowed the trend of stronger growth in demand and entry from the most disadvantaged to continue.
There has also been no trend of poorer applicants moving away from higher fee courses and this has been reflected in entry rates to higher Tariff institutions increasing to set new highs for disadvantaged groups.
Head of Analysis and Research
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NOTES TO EDITORS
UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is a charity and the UK's shared admissions service for higher education. We manage applications from over 650,000 people each year for full-time undergraduate courses at over 370 providers across the UK.