CITY MP Iain Stewart has welcomed statistics published by UCAS which show a 2.8 per cent increase in applications to higher education in the 2013 application cycle.
The member for MK South said the figures give the first reliable indication of demand for higher education in the UK this year when compared to the same point last year.
But political rival Andrew Pakes told the Citizen that the figures have not yet fully recovered from the Government’s decision to hike student fees to £9,000 a year.
According to UCAS, application rates across the UK are at, or near, their highest recorded levels. Application rates from disadvantaged 18 year olds are also at, or close to, record levels.
International applications are up, as are those from mature groups.
The Government reformed higher education funding in 2011 to place it on a financially sustainable footing and reduce the burden on the taxpayer. Under the reformed system university students are charged tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year but only begin to pay these after they have graduated, when they are earning more than £21,000.
Mr Stewart said: “These figures are encouraging and clearly demonstrate that fears over the uptake of university places by young people because of the new tuition fee structure were unfounded.”
“I am particularly pleased that disadvantaged young people are taking advantage of the new fee structure and apprenticeships to chart a better future.”
But despite the increase this year, the figures are still down on levels in 2011.
In that year, there were a total of 583,546 applications falling to 540,073 in 2012. This year’s figure of 558,898 is up on that level, but still below two years ago.
And Mr Pakes said: “Despite positive signs that overall applications are higher than last year, they have not recovered from the Government’s decision to hike student fees to £9,000 a year.
“Last year’s intake saw a huge dip in numbers in the face of higher charges.
“While a good university education is a real boost, there must be no complacency about the impact of the Government’s decision to shift the balance of higher education on students and their families.”