There is no evidence cutting tuition fees will increase university applications

Feb 27, 2015

Labour’s announcement that it will cap tuition fees at a maximum of £6,000 over the next Parliament is framed in the context of the previous system being financially unsustainable as well as debt putting students off.

The data, however, tells a different story. Take Leeds Central constituency, from where the announcement was made today. Entrants to university from school leavers in that constituency in 2006 (when the previous system of top up fees kicked in at £3,000) was 8%. In 2007 (perhaps accounting for there being a dip in 2006 due to the new fees), 9%. In 2012, when fees were increased to a maximum of £9,000, amid dire warnings of students deterred by debt,  12%. Last year, 17%. In total then, an increase in participation of 107% over the period in question.


Source: UCAS Undergraduate End of Cycle report 2014, table 20 “Change in entry rates between 2006 and 2014 for UK 18 year olds by parliamentary constituency”

And Leeds Central is not just an aberration (although it is the constituency with the second highest overall increase over the period). Across the country as a whole, entry by 18 year olds has risen by 22% over the period. And since 2012, when as noted above many people predicted entry would fall off a cliff? Well, it has risen 9%.

Source: UCAS Undergraduate End of Cycle report 2014, table 20 “Change in entry rates between 2006 and 2014 for UK 18 year olds by parliamentary constituency”

In total, of 650 constituencies across the UK, only 21 in England saw decreases in participation over the period as a % of 18 year olds. This compares, interestingly, to 23 in Scotland – a much smaller territory – over the same period. Scotland of course is where no tuition fees are charged.*

Chris Cook and Tim Wigmore have demonstrated masterfully that a cut in tuition fees would benefit higher earners, mostly men, in around 25-20 years time. The data above also suggests that it would do so for no appreciable benefit in terms of entrance rates for the majority of would be students in England, most of whom have rightly recognised the benefit of a university education, and are flocking to it regardless of fees.


 

*Though it should be noted that not all HE providers in Scotland use UCAS. Therefore the share of total HE provision in Scotland that is recorded through UCAS can change by both cycle and background. Also recruitment to Scottish providers in 2014 recorded through UCAS may be up to 2000 fewer than the reporting base in recent cycles following some changes to reporting of late acceptances

Author

Jonathan Simons

Jonathan Simons
Director of Policy and Advocacy, Varkey Foundation Read Full Bio

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