Cambridge applications remain strong after fee hike

Louise Ashwell – Deputy News Editor 14 August 2012

A national rise in tuition fees to up to £9,000 may have caused university applications to decline overall, but Cambridge appears immune from the trend, with a rise in applications to the University for 2012 entry indicating that applicants are increasingly demanding value for money from their higher education.

The University of Cambridge has revealed figures showing an overall increase in applications of 2% for the 2011-12 cycle, with the University receiving 15,795 applications by 15th October 2011, compared to 15,487 for the 2010-11 cycle. This comes despite Cambridge adopting the maximum possible fee of £9,000 for students beginning in autumn 2012.

This has bucked the national trend for university applications this year, as a panel investigating the impact of higher fees on applications announced on Thursday a “clear drop” in applications to university by English students. Although the report by the Independent Commission on Fees stressed that these were only initial findings, the revelation that one person in twenty who would have been expected to apply to university in 2012 did not do so indicates some 15,000 ‘missing’ applicants, comprising students put off by the prospect of unprecedented levels of student debt. Applications nationally have declined by nearly 10%, with even well-regarded universities such as the University of Bristol seeing a significant fall in applications of 7.2%.

Cambridge, however, continues to be regarded as within a class of its own. Applications by overseas students to Cambridge, despite now having to pay upwards of £13,000 a year, have soared by 12%. The announcement of fee rises prompted suggestions from critics that a university degree would become the preserve of students educated in the private sector, but this has not as yet extended to Cambridge; the 2011-12 cycle saw applications from state-educated students rise by 3%. Interestingly, whilst articles in the national press have cited this seeming immunity to fee rises as an Oxbridge phenomenon, Oxford in reality has shared the fate of other universities in experiencing a drop in total applications for 2012, seeing a 0.6% fall this year on the previous application cycle.

A university spokesman for Cambridge applauded the figures: “We believe that these figures reflect the University of Cambridge’s longstanding commitment to recruiting the ablest and best-qualified students with the greatest academic potential from every background.”

Vicky Hudson, Cambridge University Students’ Union Access Officer, whilst recognising that Cambridge may offer long-term value for money, was nonetheless keen to point out other factors responsible for its continued popularity. “As £9k fees become the norm rather than the exception, it may well be that students are looking to get the best education possible for their money. However, we cannot underestimate the importance of the generous financial support given to our students and also our access work.”

The University has responded to tuition fee rises with an extensive system of financial support, offering bursaries worth up to £3,500 for students from families with a household income of below £42,600. Some students will even be eligible for a further £6,000 fee waiver through the National Scholarship Programme, thus potentially paying no tuition fees at all in their first year.

If these figures prove reassuring for the University, Hudson also warns that it should not take its eye off the national picture, nor rest on its laurels in promoting fairer access. “Despite this increase in applications, we cannot become complacent if Cambridge is to continue to attract the best students from all backgrounds. We need to provide sufficient financial support to students in this volatile financial environment and reach a wider range of potential applicants through building on our access schemes.”

Louise Ashwell – Deputy News Editor