Tuition fees rise has not put off applications by disadvantaged students

Independent Commission on Fees study reveals an applications increase from poorer neighbourhoods between 2010 and 2013

The rise in tuition fees to £9,000 a year has not discouraged students from disadvantaged areas applying to university in England, a study on the impact of higher fees has concluded.

The Independent Commission on Fees found that applications from areas with historically low numbers of young people progressing into higher education showed an increase in 2013 compared with 2010, the year before the rise in fees from £3,375 to £9,000 was first announced.

It also found that the number of 18-year-olds applying from poorer areas included a small rise in applications to England's 30 most selective universities – including Oxford, UCL and Manchester – a fact welcomed by the Office For Fair Access (Offa), the higher education access watchdog.

"A further increase in the number of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods applying to university is excellent news," said Les Ebdon, the head of Offa.

"This is part of a long-term trend, and the initial evidence continues to suggest that young people from these backgrounds were not put off applying to university."

However, the higher fees appear to have caused a sharp drop in applications from mature students – those aged 20 or over – for full-time study. The commission found that mature student applications in England fell by 14% in 2013 compared with 2010. It noted that applications by mature students in Northern Ireland and Scotland – where tuition fees were not raised – continued to increase over the same time period.

Ebdon said it was "crucial" that people should have fair access to study as mature students.

"I will continue to encourage universities to consider how they can reach out to potential mature students and support them through their studies," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said there had been an increase in mature students taking up places over the past year.

"Tuition fee loans are also now available to part-time students, which has significantly increased the number of students who can receive government support," the BIS spokesman said.


Richard Adams, education editor

The GuardianTramp

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