Oxford bucks admissions trend

Half of the UK’s top universities took on fewer students last year following the government’s decision to raise undergraduate fees to a potential £9,000. 

Recently published data by UCAS reveals that ten out of 24 Russell Group institutions had fewer accepted applicants in 2012. 

The statistics also show that a number of other universities saw a dramatic drop in student numbers, including London Metropolitan University, which experienced a shortfall of more than 3,000 applications in the past year compared with previous years. Likewise, Cumbria has seen an 18 per cent reduction in the number of full-time students because of fewer applications. 

The Marketing and Communications Manager of the University of Cumbria Student Union said, “Some people have been deterred by the higher fees, and the economic climate may also have deterred people. With the fees and the graduate jobs situation the way it is, I think some people may be asking whether it is worthwhile going to university. Judging by the figures, some may decide it would be better to study part-time while working as well.” 

The UCAS data expose that among the Russell Group universities, Birmingham, Imperial College London, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Queen Mary, Sheffield, Southampton and Warwick all accepted fewer students last autumn, compared with 2011. 

Sheffield saw a seven per cent fall in applications in 2012, but the applications for 2013 look more promising with an application increase of 13 per cent. More applications have been made than before the Government overhaul. 

A representative of Sheffield Admissions said, “The university’s current position is also more positive than the national admissions picture.” 

She continued, “We believe this reflects an increasing recognition of the value of a degree from an excellent research-led university such as Sheffield.” 

Despite the national fall of 50,000 applications in England alone, Oxford student places have remained consistent throughout. According to University statistics, Oxford has had almost the same number of places available each year for undergraduates (around 3,200) while applications have remained steady at around 17,000 applications over the past three years. 

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A spokesman from the University Press Office commented, “While numbers fluctuate slightly from year to year, the University has not been expanding, nor is it planning to expand its undergraduate student numbers. 

“We believe applicants recognise the world-class education Oxford provides and the great benefits of the collegiate system. We believe that the steady applications over the last two rounds reflect an understanding that, in the new fees regime, Oxford is outstanding value, is no more expensive than any other university, and offers an exceptionally generous financial support package for lower-income students.” 

A second-year historian agreed with this, commenting, “University education has been turned into a commodity; the calibre of education people associate with Oxford means that more young people are opting for an education they expect to be better value for money.” 

The financial package Oxford offers for low-income students is the most generous of any other university in the country, and includes both fee waivers and bursaries for living costs. 

Currently one in ten of Oxford’s UK undergraduates comes from households with incomes below £16,000, the threshold for Free School Meals eligibility and for Oxford’s most generous financial assistance. 

One college access representative said, “Oxford has long been known for its substantial support packages, and I think now more than ever this has become a key consideration for students making applications.”