Universities have suffered the steepest fall in applications since records began, with the number of British students seeking a place this autumn plummeting by 8.7 per cent as the true impact of tuition fee rises is felt.
Last night there were warnings the decline would lead to course closures and redundancies at universities across the country. There was an even more marked drop of 9.9 per cent in applications from students in England, where fees are rising to up to £9,000 a year.
A breakdown revealed that courses suffering the worst drop, down by 21.5 per cent, included languages such as Mandarin and Japanese, often cited as being vital to the future of the economy.
Creative arts and design courses were down 16 per cent and technology by 17 per cent. The only courses to register an increase were some medicine courses, including nursing, up 2 per cent. In all, there were 43,473 fewer applications than last year, a record high. Martin Freedman, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "We are deeply concerned that many potential students are being put off applying and their career prospects will be damaged as a result. The fall in applicants also has worrying implications for universities' finances now that most of their funding is due to come from students rather than the Government."
Applications for 20 universities fell more than 15 per cent. The biggest drop was at the University of the Creative Arts, where numbers fell 29 per cent. By contrast, Cambridge University had a 2 per cent rise in applications.
Mature students are staying away. Applications from 23-year-olds fell 13.5 per cent; and those from 25 to 29-year-olds fell 11.8 per cent. Those from 18-year-old school leavers only dropped by 2.6 per cent. Welsh and Scottish universities fared well, with applications down 1.5 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively.