Universities across Australia have experienced a dramatic drop in the number of applications from students for places in 2006.
Increased tuition fees, which came into effect this year, could be a significant factor in the decline as well as inadequate government financial support for students.
Academic observers believe the rising cost of a degree is driving away students. Regional universities appear to have suffered most from the fall off, with some registering a decline of up to 30 per cent in the number applying compared with last year.
In several states, the decline follows a significant drop in demand last year. Many universities will be forced to reduce their entry cut-off scores to attract more students or face financial penalties imposed by the Government for failing to meet enrolment targets.
The fact that several of the top research-intensive universities, including Melbourne, Queensland and Sydney, have experienced increasing demand for places suggests the higher fees are encouraging students to aim for more prestigious institutions.
Applications from students who put the Australian National University first on their list are up by nearly 9 per cent on last year.
The federal Government claimed a strong job market and its efforts to persuade school leavers to enrol in technical college are the reasons for the decline.