Ministerial response

February 5, 1999

Your article on university applications ("Ministers act as poor jump ship", THES, January 29) did not give a full picture. First, the number of applications from school-leavers in the UK (the under-21 group) is up slightly. This reflects last year's good picture and backs up the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service chief executive's view that there is no evidence tuition fees are putting young people off HE.

Second, the figures for applications from mature students do not demonstrate that "government policies are deterring people".

The pool of potential mature applicants is getting smaller anyway because there are fewer people aged 21 to 34 (down 2.4 per cent compared with the previous year) and more of them already have degrees (there has been a 6 per cent increase in the number of 20 to 29-year-olds with degree or equivalent qualifications between 1996-97 and 1997-98).

Also, with low unemployment more mature people can be expected to remain in a job and study for a degree part-time. Most mature students already do this and the indications are that mature student numbers on part-time degree courses are holding up well.

The loans we have announced for part-time students on low incomes will allow more mature students to benefit from part-time study, while a much higher proportion of full-time mature students will not make any contribution to fees compared with younger applicants.

Tessa Blackstone

Minister of state for higher education Department for Education and Employment

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