09/07/2012 06:52 BST | Updated 09/07/2012 09:43 BST

Ucas Figures: Number Of Students Applying To University Drops By 8.9%

The numbers of UK students applying to start degree courses this autumn has slumped by almost 9%, as tuition fees triple to up to £9,000, official figures show.

Just over 50,000 fewer applicants have applied for university compared with the same point last year - a drop of 8.9%, according to new Ucas statistics.

In England, the numbers applying slumped by 10%, a bigger fall than in Wales (2.9%), Scotland (2.1%) and Northern Ireland (4.5%).

Among 18-year-olds, the age when teenagers traditionally go to university, the numbers were down by 2.6%, while applications from 19-year-olds were down 12.1% and those from 25 to 29-year-olds were down 12.2%.

There was a 10.5% drop in applications from 30 to 35-year-olds, while the numbers of people aged 40 and over was down 10.9%.

Students starting university this autumn will be the first to pay up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees, with many English universities planning to charge the maximum.

Universities minister David Willetts insisted that 2012 will still be a "competitive year" for students hoping to gain places.

But some union officials and university leaders raised concerns about the impact of the fee hike, with one warning that the drop in applications from mature students could be damaging.

The latest figures, which give the numbers of people applying before the final June 30 deadline, come as a new Ucas report reveals the impact of the new fee regime.

It found that around one in 20 English 18-year-olds - about 15,000 in total - who might have been expected to apply for university this year did not.

The situation is worse for older applicants - English students over the age of 18 were between 15% and 20% less likely to apply this year than last year, it said.

Part of the drop may be due to more people accepting places last year, Ucas suggested.

The report also reveals that young people in disadvantaged areas were still almost three times less likely to apply to university than their richer peers.

Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: "This in-depth analysis of the 2012 applications data shows that, although there has been a reduction in application rates where tuition fees have increased, there has not been a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups.

"The 10% decline in applications to English institutions reported in regular Ucas statistics is more properly interpreted as a reduced young application rate of about 5% after correcting for falling populations. Application rates for older applicants have declined slightly more - by about 15%-20%."

Shadow minister for Higher Education Shabana Mahmood said the figures showed "the decision of the Tory-led Government to treble tuition fees to £9,000 is hitting young people and their aspirations. With UK applications down by 8.9%."

Today's figures also show:

:: Overall applications, from home and abroad, were down 7.7%;

:: The number of male applicants was down 8.6%, and for females 7.1%;

:: Applications from EU students other than those from the UK fell by 12.9%, but outside the EU they rose 8.5%;

:: The South West and the North East of England saw the biggest drops, down 12.1% and 11.7% respectively.

:: The West Midlands saw the smallest fall in England, with applications down 7.4%.