Hepi downplays fee reform’s deterrent effects

By Jack Grove

There is no evidence to suggest that increasing tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year has deterred large numbers of students from applying to university, a report has argued.

The study by the Higher Education Policy Institute, published on 8 November, says estimates that 15,000 18-year-olds (about one in 20) were put off applying to university this year are likely to have overstated the impact of funding changes. The estimates were made by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in a report in July and backed by the Independent Commission on Fees’ inaugural study in August.

However, the Hepi report, titled The impact on demand of the government’s reforms of higher education, states that the analyses did not sufficiently take into account the “temporary effects” of the tuition-fee rise. “It is too soon to say for certain, but we believe it is possible, even likely, that the longer-term effects will be much smaller than the Ucas findings imply,” the report says. It adds that the estimate of 15,000 fewer than expected 18-year-old applicants should be “viewed as an upper bound”.

The Hepi report challenges Ucas’ assumption that the steadily increasing application rate among 18-year-olds apparent from 2006-07 to 2011-12 would have continued into 2012-13 – a major factor in the estimated shortfall. In fact, an increase in youth unemployment starting in 2008 may have inflated application rates from 2008-09 to 2010-11, as entering the workplace directly became more difficult, the report suggests. Since unemployment, while still high, has started to level off, application rates might have fallen in 2012-13 even if fees had not been raised. “Our assessment of the evidence is that it is far more likely that demand, as measured by application rates, has not been reduced by the increase in fees to any material extent,” the report says.

The study also addresses the significant dip in application rates among mature students – 30,000 fewer applicants in 2012-13, according to Ucas. Hepi says the data on part-time mature students accepting places, which are not yet available, must be considered before conclusions are reached, as many potential full-time students may now be studying part-time.

Source: Times Higher Education http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=421774&c=1