Latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) show overall applications slightly down on this time last year, but slightly up among under-21s.
Applications from mature students, however, were still well down on last year, despite Ministers' insistence that a late surge would fill the shortfall. Applications from the 21-24 age group were down by 11.5 per cent on last year, and were 15 per cent down among over-25s.
The figures come just days after Education Secretary David Blunkett faced a Commons revolt over legislation to introduce the fees of up to pounds 1,000 a year. Ministers insisted that students would view the fees as a good investment.
Tony Higgins, UCAS chief executive, said: "Initial fears that tuition fees would put off young people from applying for higher education have proved groundless. Our most up-to-date figures show that the number of UK under 21s applying is now up on last year."
The overall shortfall has steadily declined since December because of a flow of late applications.
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