Photo: GoofImages
Photo: GoofImages

By Huw Armstrong

University applications have risen by 2.8% since last year according to the UCAS admissions office. This is the first sign of steady improvements since the rise in tuition fees was introduced in 2011. Whilst the statistics should not be taken at face value, the increase does indicate a level of success for the current government.

Last year saw a sharp drop in the number of students applying to university amid the introduction of the tuition fee hike; those starting degree causes last autumn were the first to pay fees of up to £9,000. This drop was to be expected, the increase is not only daunting for a student but the media made it sound worse than it was.

Does this rise indicate that students are no longer intimidated by the amount of debt looming over their head?

A first year Politics student, who wished to remain anonymous, said “Everyone is in the same boat. If I didn’t come to university for a degree, my employment opportunities might be minimal.”

The idea of levelling the playing field when job hunting is interesting, and the fundamental reason applications are increasing. Whilst they still haven’t recovered to the levels before the education cuts, does this small improvement signify the beginning of a return to the popularity of university courses, despite the costs?

In short; no it doesn’t. There has to be a certain amount of scepticism when reviewing these statistics. For example, there has been a marked fall-off in applications to study languages and the arts. This could also potentially be the explanation behind the decision by UWE to discontinue the Politics department at the university. With the ever-increasing applications in business-based degrees, what use is there for one of the oldest arts?

It is clear that popularity for certain courses is decreasing, despite how important they may be. If it’s not a respected degree, why choose it?

Students are worried about employability after university. This will affect the initial choice of first going to university, then what course you pick. Many young people are now seeing the benefits of opting against university, and instead have the opportunity to get onto the employability and property ladder with no debt.

Money talks. Who wants to go to university with the possibility of having a minimum of £27,000 of debt looming over their head?

Alternatively, the rise of applications to university may be accredited to the lifestyle. Tell anyone that you go to university, and more often than not, the first question will be: ‘What’s the nightlife like?’ This isn’t a shocking question to be asked.

The portrayal of university students in the media has historically been overwhelmingly negative. We are often described as lazy, rowdy, and binge drinkers. This might be true, but we don’t like to be told it. This lifestyle appeals to adolescents. Aside from third years, who doesn’t want a loan from the government to coast through university and go out every night?

Along with this, there are areas that need to be examined in more depth. Firstly, there has been a decrease in applications by Men. Women, it seems, are more likely to apply to university if they are from disadvantaged backgrounds than young men are. This shouldn’t be surprising. If a man can get an apprenticeship, or another vocational course, university seems irrelevant and a waste of time. Young women, on the other hand, historically don’t become plumbers, or electricians.

Due to the increasing gap, the Universities Minister, David Willet, claims that universities should be targeting ‘white working class males’. The problem is they shouldn’t have to be ‘targeted’. It makes it seem as though there is a bounty on their head just because they are no longer enticed by the possibility of debt.

Ultimately, it is hard to accept these statistics at face value. Until there has been more research into the state of applications it is hard to evaluate how much students have been put off by the increase.