Applications fall as study options narrow

New rules lead to an overall drop of 9.2%, but 14 institutions buck trend. Rebecca Attwood reports

February 21, 2008

New university admissions rules giving students a narrower range of course choices have left some universities facing a dramatic drop in applications for degrees starting in the autumn.

The new system, designed to encourage students to think more carefully about where they want to study, means that applicants may choose a maximum of only five courses instead of the previous six.

The sector had been warned that this could mean a potential drop in applications of about 17 percent, or a sixth. But 21 institutions have seen a fall in applications in excess of this figure, while 14 have run counter to expectations and increased applications (excluding small institutions with fewer than 1,000 degree applications).

Overall, the average drop in applications was 9.2 per cent.

Institution Degree applications, 2008% change
Leeds College of Music1,009+31.2
Hull York Medical School1,211+20.6
Nottingham Trent University24,476+10.1
University of the Arts London10,176+7.8
Southampton Solent University9,981+7.7
University Campus Suffolk1,305+7.2
Royal Veterinary College (University of London)1,339+6.9
University of Surrey11,851+6.2
Edinburgh College of Art1,640+4.8
Glasgow School of Art1,667+4.4
Source: Ucas data for institutions in receipt of more than 1,000 undergraduate degree applications for 2008

Institution Degree applications, 2008% change
School of Pharmacy (University of London)1,133-28.1
Thames Valley University3,441-26.4
University of Bolton3,6-25.1
Stranmillis University College (a college of Queen’s University Belfast)1,451-23.6
Bucks New University3,149-23.0
University of Chester13,595-22.7
University of Sussex12,235-20.9
University of Teesside6,704-19.7
London South Bank University8,9-19.6
De Montfort University12,802-19.5
Source: Ucas data for institutions in receipt of more than 1,000 undergraduate degree applications for 2008

The universities with the greatest increase in applications for degrees this year are Nottingham Trent University, the University of the Arts London and Southampton Solent University.

The University of Surrey has seen a 55 percent increase in applications over the past two years.

Christopher Snowden, its vice-chancellor, said the increase "reflects the hard work we have put in over the past few years, as well as ... course expansion into disciplines such as English, accounting and financial management, film and criminology".

He pointed to the university's high rates of graduate employment, as did Neil Gorman, the vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent.

Most universities experiencing sharper than expected drops in applications told Times Higher Education that the quality of their applicants was improving.

Times Higher Education reported last week that the overall number of people applying to university has risen by 6.7 percent, and this has mitigated the impact of the reduced number of applications to some extent.

A spokesperson for the University of Sussex, where applications fell 20.9 percent, said that analysis showed the applications it had lost were "largely from a group of rather 'aspirational' applications" and added that the number of offers it was making remained healthy.

Cliff Allan, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Teesside, where applications fell by 19.7 percent, said that the reduction in the number of choices that applicants could make was likely to be "a factor". He said, however, that Teesside's rate of converting applications into acceptances was up, and in recent years the university had seen a rise in late applications.

Gordon Craig, director of admissions and student recruitment at the University of Dundee, which has seen a 13.4 per cent fall in home applications, said: "Traditionally, Scots choose their hometown university, and thus because we have a smaller catchment area we are vulnerable to such a change."

Nationally, students made an average of 4.33 applications to higher education institutions this year, compared with 5.09 last year.

When the new system was announced last year, the Delivery Partnership, the group responsible for implementing changes to the applications system, said that it would monitor the impact and consider a possible further reduction to four applications per person in the longer term.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is proposing a new system of matched funding to encourage universities to run more summer schools for would-be students.

A draft Hefce position paper says that the funding council will pay £10.5 million to fund a summer schools programme for 2008-10 as part of the drive to widen access. Of this, £3.5 million will be available to match universities' own spends.

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