Students are turning their backs on London universities in favour of cheaper alternatives in other parts of the country, according to a detailed analysis by The Times Higher .
New figures for enrolments on full-time degree courses show a drop of some 3 per cent at the capital's universities, and colleges of the University of London last autumn, compared with the year before. And while student numbers in the capital have expanded over the past five years, the rise in the number of enrolments lags significantly behind the rest of the country.
The analysis is based on data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. The figures cover only full-time undergraduates, but include international students.
The biggest falls are at the new universities, which can expect the largest funding cuts as a result. Middlesex, London Guildhall - which is now part of London Metropolitan - and Thames Valley universities all enrolled significantly fewer full-time students in 2003.
Some 20 per cent fewer students came to Middlesex University through Ucas in the current academic year, taking the fall since 1998 to 48 per cent.
Throughout London, a five-year rise of 4.9 per cent compared with 14 per cent nationally.
Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, said: "There is no doubt that London is perceived as an expensive place to study and the North is perceived as relatively cheap. London has always been a net exporter of students. There are more people who can afford to go away to university. Leeds, York and Nottingham universities are full of Londoners.
"Other than the specialist colleges, most of the universities are recruiting locally and more people are choosing to go out of London and experience something different and their families are able to fund them.
But we are always going to have a captive audience for part-time places."
A new survey of 2,000 adults by savings bank Birmingham Midshires has concluded that almost a quarter of adults would advise young people to live at home and attend a local university. Some said they would force their child to go to a university where the cost of living was cheaper - prompting fewer applications to London and the Southeast.
However, a report by Claire Callender, professor of social policy at London South Bank University, may offer some comfort to the capital's institutions. Professor Callender concludes that more and more students are staying at home to study.
Professor Callender's report, commissioned by the Greater London Authority and due to be published next week, concludes that an increasing number of Londoners will remain in the capital to study.
Some per cent of British students at London institutions lived at home in 1998; by 2002, this figure had risen to 40 per cent. Nationally, just 16 per cent of students lived at home in 1998; by 2002, it was 19 per cent.
Professor Callender said: "Universities will remain a rite of passage for middle-class families. The unknown is what will happen when higher tuition fees are introduced and people seek to reduce their living costs by staying at home. Different sorts of students are living at home in London. It's lower middle-class students."
Anne Campbell, Labour MP for Cambridge, this week pressed the government for a regional threshold at which students would qualify for state support.
She told The Times Higher : "We need to look at whether we are going to get a good supply of applicants from all areas. If you bought a house in Cambridge, your mortgage payments would leave you £8,000 a year worse off than in Manchester."
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