Mature students have been deterred by tuition fees and more undergraduates are living at home because of higher costs, according to university admissions figures for 1998-99.
The figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service give the first full picture of 1998 admissions - subject to minor revisions in December . They show that 12.3 per cent of all people who gained university places last year were aged over 25 (11 per cent aged 21 to 24), whereas this year admissions figures show the over 25s down to 10.7 per cent (10.2 per cent 21-24). By contrast, the under 21s were up from 76.7 per cent in 1997 to 79 per cent this year.
A UCAS spokesman said: "There are several factors relevant to the decline in mature applicants. One is a demographic change, whereby the number of potential applicants has been reduced because of higher education expansion over the past few years, and another is because of the introduction of tuition fees. Mature students tend to have more financial commitments and are less prepared to take on additional debt burdens."
Fewer people applied for and gained university places this year. The total number of applicants was 443,613 compared with 455,086 last year when there was a rush to beat tuition fees. Of these, 326,841 have already gained places at university this year compared with 332,400 last year.
This year's admissions figures are well up on 291,662 admitted in 1996. There was virtually no change on the percentages of people applying from each of the six social class categories.
More than a fifth of those starting university this year intended to live at home. Costs and worries about debt above the student loan has meant the proportion is increasing by around 1 per cent a year. Last year, 19.5 per cent said they would live at home.
Fear of debt seems to have increased the popularity of more "marketable" subjects such as computer science (up by nearly 8 per cent on last year), sports science (up by 18 per cent) and software engineering (up by 18 per cent). Admissions for initial teacher training are down by 6.5 per cent, sociology by 15 per cent and physics by 7 per cent.