To recap: in 2012, average English tuition fees rose by 158% to roughly £8500, with no corresponding increase in grants. As we’ve seen previously, this resulted in a fall in English applications of about 8%. The effect was not evenly distributed among all groups: among 18 year-olds, the drop was 1-2% (depending on what base you use), whilst among applicants over 19, the decrease was 15-20%.
But of course, it’s never best to rely on one year of data, especially when the government announced the change a year and a half in advance; notably, some people will move up the start of their studies to take advantage of lower fees before the hike. This is essentially what happened in the UK after both the 1998 and the 2005 tuition hikes – a jump in enrolments before the hike, then a fall immediately after the hike, followed by a rebound in the second year after the change as the system returned to equilibrium.
As data released yesterday by UCAS shows, this is exactly what happened this year.
Application rates by Country, 18 year-olds 2007-2013
It’s not entirely clear what’s happened to over-18 admissions since the effective application deadline for mature students has not yet passed; however, initial indications are that application rates continued to fall for the over-25s, but improved, somewhat, for the 19-25 group.
A point of note is the fate of students from the lowest socio-economic strata. These are the students which one would have expected to be most vulnerable to exclusion by higher fees. In the first year after the hike, there were no disproportionate drops for poorer students – their application rates fell at about the same rate as all other income groups. So how did they do?
Application Rates from lowest income quintile, by country, 2007-13
This chart is interesting for two reasons. First, it shows that application rates from the lowest income quintile are now at an all-time high. In fact, if we were to go back to the time when students in this quintile had full tuition waivers (2005), we would see that application rates are up 65% since that time. Second, it shows the difference between England (where tuition is on average £8500) and Scotland (where tuition is £0). The free-tuition jurisdiction has lower participation from low-income students (13% vs 19.5%), and it also has seen slower growth in participation (4.8% vs. 6.7%).
Again, these are the actual effects of a tuition hike of $9000 with no offsetting increase in student grants. Send ‘em to your favourite student leader, plaster them to Pierre Duchesne’s head – there’s a prize for the first person who can read these and still make a coherent argument for why a Quebec-style tuition increase would have any effect at all on access.