Leader: Follow the money trail

July 22, 2005

Nothing better illustrates the need for the Government's £4 million campaign to explain top-up fees to students and their parents than this week's statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. Suddenly, English sixth-formers have discovered the attractions of studying in Scotland... and Wales and Northern Ireland. Could it be that politicians' opposition to top-up fees in those parts of the UK is responsible? If so, the confusion really is serious because this year's applicants will not pay the new fees, wherever they choose to study.

Yet it is hard to imagine what else is behind this unpredicted broadening of horizons, or the 8.2 per cent overall increase in applications.

Ministers say there is no evidence that the surge is fees-related, but the past five years have produced rises of between 1 and 3 per cent. And the biggest increases are among mature students, who are best able to bring forward their plans. When there is a corresponding decrease in applications from this group next year - as there was when the original tuition fees were introduced - it will be more difficult to deny a link.

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