Britain’s undergraduates are continuing to study away from their home towns despite the revolution in higher education, which has seen fees rise to as much as £9,000 a year.
Research shows the urge to fly the family home to study for a degree is stronger now than it ever was – either before top-up fees of £3,000 a year were introduced in 2006 or the £9,000 ceiling came in September 2012.
Figures contained in a national survey show just one in 20 prospective students – those now in the sixth-form – would only study somewhere close to home.
The research, seen by The Independent, is the final piece in a jigsaw which shows that, against expectations, the shake-up in higher education of the past few years has failed to dent the image of a traditional university education.
Figures from Ucas, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, show record numbers had enrolled at universities this autumn – 495,596, higher even than the year before the fees’ rise when students gave up gap years in their droves to beat the increase.
Today’s research, which comes from university choices and careers experts Cambridge Occupational Analysts (Coa), appears to contradict earlier data showing more students would prefer to study at home – and avoid debts.
However, it was conceded last night that these figures included mature students – who would be expected to study from home because of family commitments.
One theory put forward by a senior lecturers’ leader was that – as students were having to fork out £9,000 a year for their courses – they might as well go the whole hog and enjoy themselves as well.
Joyce Lane, joint-managing director of Coa, said it might be that, because of fees, they wanted to make sure they signed up for the best course available and had as a top priority maximising their career potential. Coa encourages sixth-formers – 17,000 of whom responded to the survey – to study a questionnaire called Centigrade which includes 150 questions aimed at matching academic abilities and interests with courses.
“Going to university is very expensive and looking for the right course and university can be very time-consuming,” said Mrs Lane.
“Dropping out is costly, too, in terms of time and money lost and the stress experienced. This means it is more important than ever for prospective students to look into the finer details.”
A breakdown of the figures revealed the largest fall over the past three years in the proportion of students who prefer to stay home was in Scotland – despite the fact that tuition is still free there for Scottish students. 31 per cent of Scottish students wanted to stay at home compared to 44 per cent in 2011.
Wales, too, saw a big drop with just 2 per cent preferring to stay at home compared to 11 per cent last year, Welsh students can get a grant of up to £5,425 a year if the study in either Wales or England.
In England, London saw the biggest fall with just 10 per cent wanting to study in their home area compared to 17 per cent two years ago.
The report also revealed the number of students from disadvantaged homes applying to university had increased since the rise of fees.