2005 tidal wave in race to beat top-up fees
Will you be advising your students to dump their gap year plans and join the rush to enter higher education ahead of top-up fees?
Career advisers, HE admissions specialists, gap year organisations and politicians are among experts predicting that as many as 100,000 extra students could enter the race for university places next year, driving up entry grades and causing thousands of well-qualified candidates to be rejected. Applicants will face the toughest-ever competition for places, they warn, as a whole cohort of students considers calling off plans to take a gap year during 2005 in order to avoid paying higher tuition fees from 2006. Conversely, wealthy students, for whom the extra fees hold no fears, will be able to buy themselves a much easier ride in 2006
The effect is likely to be compounded by considerable growth in the number of applications from students from the ten new European Union states. Current predictions from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) estimate that as many as 30,000 extra students from the new member states will enter the UK HE system by 2010, with the bulk seeking places at the earliest opportunity, in 2005.
It coincides too with growing demand from home students as the numbers of 18 to 21 year-olds in the UK population rise and success rates at A level continue to increase.
HEPI figures warn, for example, that there will be a demand for an additional 150,000 undergraduate places by 2010, purely as a result of general population growth combined with higher A level pass rates.
Calculating the '2005 effect'
While no one can be sure how many prospective gap year students will try to escape the 2006 fee regime, research by the Liberal Democrats indicates that 67% of potential gap year students will abandon their plans in order to beat the fees. The new system in England will see top-up fees of up to £9,000 over three years, compared with just over £1,000 a year at present. Students joining HE in 2005 will pay the current figure and will also be entitled to deferred payments in 2006 and 2007.
Cambridge University, which received 13,700 applications for its 3,400 places last year, is now bracing itself for what it calls the '2005 effect.' "We are very concerned and have written to the government about this," says Cambridge director of admissions Geoff Parks. "Those who would have got a place here if applications had been steady will now be disappointed."
A similar message comes from Bristol University communications director Barry Taylor: "There is already fierce competition for places in a small number of the subjects we offer, and we are concerned that more of the outstanding candidates who apply to Bristol may have to be disappointed."
For its part, the government is keen to tone down the gloomy forecasts. The Department for Education and Skills argues that many gap year students will prefer to start their courses in 2006 when they realise that they will pay their fees only after graduation, and even then not until their salaries exceed £15,000. Poorer students, moreover, will benefit from the re-introduction of grants worth up to £2,700 a year and from bursary schemes.