Party over: Student life is serious business

As official figures reveal that fees of £9,000 have created a record slump in applications, Richard Garner discovers how economic reality is already transforming universities

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 are being released by the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) and 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, for example, 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 down on the cost of a three-year 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. Those recruited will study for accountancy degrees at Durham or Exeter.

Add to the mix the fact that applications to the Open University are increasing, with the latest figures showing a 4 per cent increase to 260,000. Again the rise is fastest among 18 and 19-year-olds where the numbers have shot up by 30 per cent to 1,611.

Today we will see just 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 actual fact you can apply afterwards – it is just that you cannot guarantee 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.

Arts and humanities courses such as creative art and design seem to be the main victims (down 14.6 per cent). The biggest sufferer, however, is non-European languages – which includes Mandarin and Japanese, both considered essential to the UK's future competitiveness.

On the up or holding their own are medicine, law and business studies because of their capacity to lead to well-paid employment.

University applications down 8.7 per cent

Look and learn: New university tribes

THE NIGHT OWL: Niall Quilligan

Niall had already made the decision that he wanted to live in London before opting for Birkbeck College's "night school" degree programme. It gave the 19-year-old from Cheshire the chance to earn while he learns, taking a job to help him finance his way through his course. "You're able to work 9 until 5 if you want to, while other students are studying," he says. "I worked in market research for a bit of cash."

The course in psychology involves him turning up Monday to Thursday between 6pm and 8.30pm for lectures. "It is quite flexible provided you put the main core of learning in between 6pm and 8.30pm," he said. Another student on the Birkbeck night course, Tasneem Yahya, said it was an easy decision because of the money she saved by living at home.

"I'm also able to mix with people of all ages on this course which is what I will have to do when I go out to work," she says. "That wouldn't be the same if I went away to university."


An Open University degree allowed Kelly to gain work experience while completing her law degree.

The 24-year-old from Hull had already bought her own home when she opted to go on the course soon after completing her A-levels.

"Rather than go to university and come out with a huge debt after three years, I thought it would be good to have a fee earner while I studied," she says. "I wouldn't have been able to afford to go to university and I gained practical skills as well during the course – it is quite difficult to get a job at a solicitor's office."

THE HIGH-EARNER: Joshua Bellamy

Joshua is on the pioneering KPMG scheme. It earns him a £20,000 annual salary while the firm pays his tuition fees for an accountancy degree at Durham University. For the first three years, he spends six to eight weeks on campus and the remainder at work. In the fourth year he completes his course by spending the whole time studying.

The 18-year-old, a former pupil at Holland Park School in west London, says: "It means you're earning a wage while your studying. It did play a large part in my decision that – rather than ending up in debt – I would be earning."


Chose a two-year degree because "I didn't want to spend the summer holiday sitting in bed until 10 o'clock".

It also helped him save on his living costs while he was studying. Critics claim those who opt to study this way deny themselves valuable work experience that will help them get a job – because they will not have the time to fit it in. Chris, 22, studied marketing and media communications at Buckingham University. "I think it gives you something unique to offer [employers]," he says. "Not many people had heard of two-year degrees so I think it proved to them I was prepared to work hard."

University applications down 8.7 per cent

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
Life and Style
fashionOne man takes the hipster trend to the next level
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'