Student choices: Students avoid isolated spots

Everyone is on the look-out for new courses and cost-cutting locations
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The Independent Culture
Students are still flocking to sign up for university despite the advent of fees. But some universities appear to be more popular than others. There are signs that students are shunning more out-of-the-way spots - such as East Anglia, Plymouth and Keele - and staying at home to cut costs.

It has been known for some time that students have been choosing to study close to home by attending a university in their region. But the speculation now is that they may actually be opting to attend their neighbourhood university and live at home rather than trying to get as far away from their parents as possible.That way they cut down on the cost of food, avoid rent altogether and have mum to deal with their washing.

The big surprise in recent UCAS figures has been the huge increase in applicants netted by Thames Valley, a new university which straddles an area from West London to Slough in Buckinghamshire. Its applications are up by 34 per cent despite adverse publicity last year when staff were ordered to pass students who had failed (an order later rescinded by the vice chancellor). The university has received big increases in applicants for certain subjects, such as media technology, and has reorganised courses to make them more attractive to students.

Another popular university is Bath, where applications are up 22 per cent. It too has a new and much sought-after course, sports studies, and is a highly rated university in a gorgeous part of the West Country.

One of the features of the more popular universities this year is that they are not in huge cities. Huddersfield, another popular choice, is in a town. The big civic universities - Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Nottingham - have lost applicants this year, leading some experts to suggest that students may be avoiding the larger conurbations because they think they will be overwhelming and anonymous - and possibly unsafe.

Some other trends seem certain. The number of mature students applying to university this year has fallen. So has the number of applicants from the tiger economies of the Far East. And HND courses have taken a hit.

It is also worth remembering that the figures are for applications, not places. Some of the more popular universities may find they have a high proportion of fifth and sixth choices (students have a wish list of six) and that they cannot translate those applicants into definite places for the new academic year. So, by August, the overall picture may well be looking rather different.