Fears that students would rush to start university this year to beat the introduction of top-up fees in 2006 appear unfounded as applicant numbers are only slightly higher than last year's figures.
Virginia Isaac, director of marketing and communications at the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, confirmed that the number of people who applied by the January 15 deadline to start university this autumn was only fractionally bigger than the number that applied last January to start in autumn 2004.
Speaking at a conference last week, Ms Isaac said: "Applications for full-time study are not up that much compared with the January 15 deadline last year."
Ms Isaac's statement is in line with figures from the October 15 deadline for applications for courses in medicine and dentistry and at Oxford and Cambridge universities, which were up just 1 per cent on the previous year.
Ucas this week also released final figures for 2004 entry, which confirmed that the number of full-time students rose by less than 1 per cent last year compared with 2003. Some 377,544 people were accepted on undergraduate courses.
Demand from British students was almost static: numbers increased by just 0.1 per cent. The number of British men gaining a place fell by 0.3 per cent, and the number of British students aged over 25 dropped by 1.2 per cent.
Most of the growth came from the European Union, including the new member states. The number of successful EU applicants increased 23 per cent.
Demand for places from students outside the EU was stagnant.
The fall in the number of people taking higher national diplomas has continued: a slide of 22.5 per cent left the total at just 14,559. The boom in demand for foundation degrees, with numbers up 58 per cent to 8,853, failed to compensate for this fall. The numbers taking degree courses climbed 2.1 per cent to 362,985.
Anthony McClaran, chief executive of Ucas, said: "Behind the overall figures lies a clear picture of diversity. Women applicants continue to perform very strongly, and it is good to see the continuing growth of the foundation degree pathway."
Design, law and psychology remain popular, while students continued to turn their backs on computer science, engineering and physics. But the number of students studying chemistry full time rose by 1.2 per cent nationally.
Applications for chemistry at Newcastle University have shot up by 11 per cent this year after it decided to scrap teaching pure physics. The university this week began a multimillion-pound initiative to boost molecular engineering. It plans to develop new degree courses that combine chemistry, physics and biology.
- Student debt will treble from 2006, according to a study published this week.
Hilary Metcalf, senior research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said: "Our research suggests that the existing tuition fee is passed directly into debt, rather than into increased term-time working or lower expenditure. If the same happens with the £3,000 a year top-up, student debt will triple."
UPS AND DOWNS BY SUBJECT MOST POPULAR Subject
No of degree students Change Design Studies 15,159 up 5.9 per cent Law 14,998 up 4.6 per cent Psychology 12,467 up 0.7 per cent LOSING THEIR APPEAL Subject No of degree students Change Computer science 11,659 down 12.1 per cent Management studies 11,752 down 1.6 per cent Business studies 10,823 down 0.8 per cent