Applications to Australian universities for 2005 have fallen sharply, but higher tuition fees due to be imposed at most institutions may not be to blame.
Public universities in Western Australia have suffered the biggest fall, with an 8 per cent drop in student applications this year compared with the same time in 2003. Tertiary admission centres in New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland have experienced about half the West Australian decline.
The private Notre Dame University in Perth, however, has seen a 53 per cent rise in student applications compared with last year - 2,000 prospective students have applied for places. The university says this may be a result of a federal government decision to allow private students access to a deferred student loan scheme. The scheme allows public and private university students to borrow up to A$50,000 (£20,420), and they do not have to repay the loan until their income reaches A$35,000.
In contrast to Notre Dame, Bond University in Queensland, Australia's other private institution, has not recorded a marked change in student applications this year.
A majority of public universities will increase Higher Education Contribution Scheme fees by up to 25 per cent. But several have received more applications than they did last year, while a few that decided not to raise fees have seen applications fall.
After announcing a fees rise of 20 per cent next year, Canberra University saw a 14 per cent drop in applications. Yet Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia, which will not vary its fees, has still seen a drop of 10 per cent.
A decline in the 15 to 19-year-old population may be playing a part in falling applications. But demand from mature students has fallen even further.
University admissions officers point out that applications surged last year for study in 2004. They think many students, who might otherwise have deferred entry for a year, decided to begin their courses before top-up fees were introduced. Students who are already enrolled will not pay the Hecs increases.
Although demand for university places is likely to continue to outstrip supply, students seeking to enrol in 2005 will have more chance of being admitted. The re-elected Conservative Government has also increased the number of subsidised places by nearly 10,000.