Recent figures have revealed that the number of prospective students applying to start at UWE in September 2012 has dropped by almost 14%, against a national figure of around -7%.

Since the formidable rise in fees was announced in November 2010, UWE have increased their annual tuition fee amount from £3290 to £9000. Students studying Foundation Degrees at UWE’s Federation Colleges will be paying £7500 a year.

In 2011 UWE received just over 31,000 applications, whereas statistics obtained from 2012 show a fewer amount of applications of 26,757.

One of the main issues, which arose from the implementation of higher fees, was whether students from less affluent backgrounds would be able to afford to attend university. However, UWE have stated that they will make an annual commitment of £10.5 million to reach out to the students who are missing out on higher education because of their economic background.

For UWE to appeal to those from lower-income households, the university has introduced a new scheme, which is focused on those from disadvantaged backgrounds who need financial help the most. As part of the new student finance system, UWE is planning to award over 1000 bursaries to new undergraduates in 2012.

UCAS have however stated that: “Our analysis shows that decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in the disadvantaged groups.”

It appears that students from middle-class families are being ‘hit the hardest’, according to recent statistics provided by UCAS’ POLAR2 methodology. Although substantial bursaries will be, and have already been provided to those from poorer backgrounds, it is those students whose families are earning just over the threshold that are most expected to feel the ‘squeeze’. It can also be argued that fewer students are now unable to pay their fees upfront, therefore highlighting the decrease in demand of students from more advantaged backgrounds. However, it appears that it has not been taken into consideration from UCAS that far fewer students from a less affluent background applied to university even before the rise in tuition fees. An article in the Guardian states that ‘those in families in the middle of the income curve are around 75% more likely to apply than those at the bottom’, hence the reason that media focus has been solely on the decline in applications from the more affluent student.

Despite there being no significant increase in applications for 2011/2012 to determine an influx of students trying to beat the rise in fees, it is proposed by UWE that the decrease this year was mainly due to fewer courses being on offer to prospective students. The removal of these courses has resulted in around 3500 less applications.

UWE Communications Director, Keith Hicks, states: “For UWE this year the drop in applications was because applications were up significantly in previous years by as much as 27%. Applications are also down due to the impact of offering fewer courses and the drop in mature students applying to university.”

According to UCAS: “The applications from mature groups are set against a backdrop of increasingly higher HE participation rates at their school leaving age.”

Due to the government’s cuts on university places, which was predicted by Labour leader, Ed Miliband, at the beginning of last year, UWE are now only able to offer 4600 places a year, instead of the usual 5800. The Coalition has recently announced that fewer places will be available at universities nationally to coincide with the introduction of higher tuition fees. Recent figures have revealed that nationally, the number of full-time undergraduate courses on offer at universities has fallen by more than a quarter since 2006.

It appears that more students are now looking to take different channels to build a future career. Recent statistics have revealed that the number of students taking on apprenticeships have increased by over two-thirds within the last year. Figures have shown that almost half a million apprenticeships were started in 2010/2011, which was a 63% increase on the previous year.

With £6 million being injected into the Higher Apprenticeship Fund by the government, it could seem reasonable to question where the Government’s priorities lie with creating a stable future for the education system. It appears that David Cameron’s sole focus has been to encourage young people to ‘learn a proper trade wherewe’re not just borrowing and spending huge amounts but really earning our way’, instead of addressing issues with the state of the current education system.

There is also recent threat of whether the rise in tuition fees, coupled with the welfare reform will be shutting the doors on many young disabled people accessing university. The current welfare benefits in place allow those studying in full-time education to receive disability allowances, however, the reform bill aims to cut the costs of those benefits, by reducing the number of people they are available to. According to an article in the Guardian, many campaigners say that the government’s proposals to reduce the cost of Disability Allowance by 20% ‘will leave some disabled students with less money for transport and personal care.’

A meeting is planned to be held at UWE on Wednesday 21 March, which will debate the effects the Education White Paper will have on disabled students and put forward ideas about how UWESU can defend current and prospective disabled students at UWE.

Although the rise in tuition fees seem to have played a factor in UWE’s decline in applications this year, it is clear to see that other cuts and reforms implemented by the government have also contributed to the decrease in number of students applying to universities. However, it is still early days and only time will tell as to whether the increase in tuition fees will really have a detrimental effect on the future of students looking to attend higher education.

Rebecca Day