The figures are out! And they all point to one conclusion: the fact that the figures mean very little to anybody. Alexander Blakoe takes a closer look at UCAS’s recent press release and the left-wing’s reaction.
Even though the vast majority of students have yet to send their applications off, the media have been quick to pounce on the statistics UCAS have fed them.
Many institutions have less than 5% of the applications they are expecting to have received by the January deadline, but it’s never too early for The Guardian to start spreading what is potentially ‘bad news’, conveniently ignoring the fact that the drops in England and Scotland are both by 12% (even though Scottish students will not have to pay tuition fees). Once The Guardian had found out that only 52,321 applicants have applied from within the UK this year, compared to 59,413 this time last year, they decided that the rise in tuition fees was a bad idea. As if we weren’t expecting demand to fall with a rise in prices.
Perhaps somebody should explain to The Guardian that nobody with a few brain cells is really that surprised by a drop in applications. The point of the
reforms was not to maintain current student intake whilst indebting graduates more than before. Although, from the comments on The Guardian’s website, it seems that very few readers understand – or want to understand – the system. “That has always been the main plan, make university education unaffordable for the less well off and use them as cheap labour“, “education for them that can afford it”, “The unis are more interested in giving places to the rich, irrespective of where they are born, rather than trying to help academically gifted but financially struggling applicants”.
“Elitist”? “Unaffordable”? Yes university should be elitist – but elitist academically, not financially. There is not a single Year 13 in the country who will be unable to afford university. You have nothing to pay up-front: you are lent money by the government until you are able to pay it back. If you are earning £20,000pa after university then you pay nothing back. If you are earning £21,000pa after university then you pay nothing back. If you are earning £22,000pa after university then you pay back £90 per year (9% of what you earn above £21k). If you are earning £23,000pa then you pay back £180 per year. It is indeed a massive financial burden to put yourself into ‘debt’ by £27,000 (sometimes more!), but if you do not believe that your degree is worth that much, why should the government pay for it? And let’s face it, the repayment scheme is so generous that it is more like a fair tax than a debt.
I am currently a Year 13 student, and I have applied to universities. I have, indeed, not been scared off by socialists. In fact, with a little research I found that people from a poorer background (with a household income of less than £16k) are entitled to massive grants, bursaries, and scholarships. First the government gives me money, and then universities give me money. Oxford, for instance – the “most elitist university in the country” – gives me over £22,000 in help for living costs and tuition fees. Not to mention the £12,000 the government is giving me. Both are non-repayable. Oxford and the government will also lend me more money, should I need it to survive at university. The new system is fair and reasonable, and provides excellent education to those who have the capacity to learn, not the capacity to pay.
There will be reasons for a drop in the number of applicants, however. According to my research, approximately 7% of applicants take a gap year; knowing that tuition fees were rising, I suspect that more than a few 2011 applicants will have put their projects on hold, meaning that there are more spaces available for 2012 applicants (this year’s). Furthermore, some people may opt to study abroad, where it is cheaper. Also, a number of people will be putting off the decision, not wishing to commit themselves to a £27k degree which they don’t want. Finally, some people will have decided that their degree is not worth what they are paying for it. All these reasons are positive: one reason is a natural avoidance of higher fees, one is an example of the free market at work, and two show that students are making more careful decisions now that they are faced with the true cost of a degree. Anyway, every time fees rise, applicant numbers fall and then rise again rapidly. In 2006, applications dropped by 4.5% before bouncing back up by 7.1% the following year. In conclusion, we are expecting a fall in applications – but it will mean very little. And given that 95% of applications have yet to be sent off, the current figures certainly mean very little right now.