UCAS defends its statistical spin

April 30, 1999

University admissions chiefs were this week accused of spin-doctoring applicant figures in favour of government fee and grant policy.

Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians accused the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service of using its last bulletin to spin an unwarranted "good news" story about the 0.09 per cent rise in school-leavers applying for full-time courses this year compared with last. A rise was to be expected given the growth in this age cohort.

Overall the numbers applying are down 2.5 per cent on last year.

The Department for Education and Employment trumpeted the same school-leavers figure. Minister Baroness Blackstone said that the 0.09 per cent increase demonstrated a continuing strong demand for higher education and vindicated government policy.

The April 16 UCAS bulletin made no mention of the 9 per cent fall in the number of UK-domiciled applicants over 21 or the 10.8 per cent fall in overseas applicants aged under 21 and a 12.7 per cent fall in over 21s.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat further and higher education spokesman, said:

"UCAS has a responsibility to face reality and accept that the latest statistics on applications to higher education are deeply worrying. The last thing we need is UCAS peddling a pro-government line."

Shadow further and higher education minister Damian Green said: "The chief executive of UCAS is being appallingly complacent in describing these figures as 'good news'."

The number of applications, as distinct from applicants, has fallen by an average 4.3 per cent overall on the same time last year. Higher national certificate and higher national diploma applications fell by 11.4 per cent.

A UCAS spokesman said: "UCAS is a private company and a registered charity, not an agency of the government. We are not trying to take a political line but we are talking about representing UK HE plc." Chief executive Tony Higgins called the claims a "disgraceful slur". He admitted fees could have hit mature applicants.

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