Universities do not usually hope for applications to be below expectations, but the fact that there appears to be no dramatic leap in demand for places in 2005 will be a source of relief to admissions officers and ministers alike. A bulge this year would have signalled difficulties when top-up fees are introduced in 2006, as well as placing current applicants at an unfair disadvantage.
The official figures will not be available for another fortnight, but they will give the first tentative insight into students' attitudes to the new system. When £1,000 tuition fees were introduced, prospective mature students opted out in their thousands. History may repeat itself next year, but it would be reasonable to expect many to have brought forward their plans to beat the hike. So far so good for those who argued that scrapping upfront payment would outweigh the fear of greater debt.