Party's over as students get down to business

Courses leaving time for a day job are on the rise. By Richard Garner
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The Independent Online

It used to be about daytime TV, being carried home from bad nightclubs, and halls of residence awash with half-eaten pot noodles and stolen traffic cones, but for the new breed of university student weighed down with the pressures of inflated tuition fees, it's all about business. Today final student application figures being released by the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) are expected to show record falls in student numbers.

Earlier fears of a 15 to 20 per cent decline are unlikely to be confirmed, but vice-chancellors still predict an overall drop of about 6 per cent (with a larger fall among UK applicants) – up to 30,000 down on last year.

However, it is as much the change in culture in reaction to the tuition fees hike as the drop in numbers which is significant. Students are shunning the traditional three-year campus course and all its quirks in order to ensure they gain qualifications more quickly, more conveniently, and if necessary while living at home.

London's Birkbeck University has seen a huge influx of school leavers opting for its "night school" degree course. This consists of three hours' teaching a night, four days a week, crucially leaving students free to take a day job to finance their studies.

This year has seen overall applications for courses in a range of subjects including English, geography, history, law and the psychological sciences soar by 153 per cent to 1,142.

The biggest rise has been among 17 to 20-year-olds – where applications have more than tripled from 219 to 739.

For 19-year-old Tasneem Yahya, the decision to study psychology at night school was a "no brainer". "I live in Central London – only a 15 to 20-minute walk away from the university," she said. "I can save a lot of money."

Similar motives have led to a growth in popularity for two-year degrees – advocated by the Universities Minister, David Willetts, and his predecessor, Lord Mandelson – whereby students forgo their long summer breaks to cut the cost of a course.

Then there are a raft of schemes being introduced by employers whereby school leavers get a job and their fees paid while they study. KPMG took on 90 students under this scheme last year, offering them £20,000 a year as long as they worked for the accounting firm while they were not at university.

It has proved so successful that the numbers have doubled this year and many of the major graduate recruiters have followed suit.

Added to this, applications to the Open University are increasing, with the latest figures showing a 4 per cent rise to 260,000. Among 18 and 19-year-olds, numbers have shot up by 30 per cent to 1,611.

Today we will see how much impact the new fees regime has had on student applications as Ucas publishes details of the numbers that have applied by what is commonly termed the final deadline – January 15.

In fact you can apply afterwards – it is just that you are not guaranteed of being treated equally to those who have met the deadline.

In addition to a drop in student numbers, expect a shift in the pattern of courses students are applying for.

Research among school leavers shows they are considering their options more seriously this year – "hard work" has replaced "hard partying" as their motto.

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