Do increased university fees affect student numbers?

By March 10, 2016Articles, Loans

Students are on the march again, protesting the latest fees, cuts, and reforms due for universities across the country.

Two of which include:

  • Maintenance grants, which currently give students from lower income families up to £3,387 per year, will be replaced by repayable loans.
  • High quality establishments (a term yet to be exactly defined) might be able to charge more in 2017-2018, possibly creating a two tier fee system.

Therefore, it appears that the cost of being a student is set to be more expensive than ever before.

The last student protests in 2012 saw thousands of unhappy people taking to the streets to march against rises in university fees. It was partly due to the 200% price increases many were set to face when starting university. Partly due to the discontent with the Liberal Democrat’s role in coalition government and the promises they’d made beforehand.

Ultimately however, these protests did not have the impact desired and as of September 2012 universities began to charge more.

So why were these protests unsuccessful? Simply because university remains as popular as ever, despite the rising costs. Although the number of first year students dropped significantly over the academic year that the cuts were introduced (2012/2013), the figure has since been rising each year. In fact, 2015 saw more first years accepted onto courses than ever before (409,000).

A 2011 YouGov-Cambridge and Huffington Post report on British Attitudes towards University found that the top three reasons people go into higher education (using only a single word) were: ‘fun’, ‘career’, and ‘ambition’. Interestingly, the most popular of these by a long way was ‘fun’ (chosen by 56.6% of participants compared to second place ‘career at 5.1%).

University is seen as a necessary life experience by UK students: it’s a chance to live independently and meet a completely new circle of people; it’s glamorised (and sometimes demonised) in the media; people are told it’s the “best years of their life” and that they’ll make friends for life. It’s no surprise that even the rising costs of university cannot quell its reputation for ‘fun’.

But UK universities are not only filled with UK students, every year thousands of EU and international students come to the country to experience a British education. Once again, strong university and city reputations which are known around the world, as well as the chance to immerse themselves in an English speaking environment, which vastly appeal to these students.

Ultimately, the high status of universities mean that these costs are somewhat alleviated and students from around the world are still attracted to the UK’s higher education system. Despite the ever-growing fees, students still have high expectations of university and therefore are still spending to make sure these expectations are met.

The most obvious example of this is how much students pay for their accommodation. Every year there are more new-build, luxurious student properties developed in student towns across the nation, catering to students who want to pay more for better accommodation.
There are extreme examples- an American student in London now pays £21,000 per month for her luxury studio. But for the most part, it has been proven that students are willing to pay up to 70% more for luxurious rooms and facilities depending on the city (Knight Frank Student Report 2014).

Again, despite the rising costs of being a student, their demands are only becoming more sophisticated and therefore, expensive. According to the co-founder of Uniplaces, Ben Grech, “The fact is, the quality of accommodation available for today’s students is better than it has ever been with more options in terms of location, price, size and spec than ever before.” This was followed by a poll which found that only 18% of students are happy to live at home, meaning the rest have to find suitable accommodation.

Will the latest fee rises and grant changes affect student figures negatively? Will it slow the growing demand for luxurious accommodation? Looking at the past figures it would appear not. That’s not to say the latest peaceful protests were in vain, they’ve succeeded in bringing attention and interest to the cause. However, so long as UK universities maintain their strong academic and fun reputations, it appears that the student figures will rise.


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