Thousands give up gap year dreams

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Up to 200,000 students may have given up on dreams of a gap year as universities confirm an increase of fees in 2012.

Of 762 students surveyed in January by One Poll, 40% said that they are scrapping their gap year plans in response to the dramatic increase in fees. Of those still going ahead with their plans, 60% have decided to shorten the length of their travels in favour of making money closer to home.

Roughly 500,000 people apply for full-time undergraduate study each year, so if the poll’s results are representative, an estimated 200,000 were deterred from taking a gap year in 2011.

The fees hike seems to have forced students to rethink their plans as they become reluctant to run up increasing amounts of debt.The number of people applying for deferred entry almost halved last year, with 6.9% of applicants choosing that option in 2010 and only 3.3% in 2011.

The school leavers of 2011 were the most affected by the increase in fees. By delaying their entrance to university, students faced a trebling of their tuition costs.

According to the Office for Fair Access, the estimated average fee for a university course will be £8,393. Oxford, along with more than a third of all English universities, will charge £9,000 as its standard fee.

Faced with the two alternatives, Millie Simpson, a first-year classicist at Exeter College, claimed she was left with no real choice. She explained, “I was really devastated by the plan to increase tuition fees – in anticipation of this unique chance to travel the world I had saved an appropriate amount of money and made plans with friends.

“All of this effort was in vain. Not only did I have to factor in the prices for travelling the world but also the added £24,000 or so for my four-year degree.”

It is believed that the recent dip in applications may be a one-off. Future students will not have such a high price tag attached to their year off, as fees are now expected to be fixed.

Professor Richard Cooper, Vice-Principal of Brasenose College, discussed the value of taking a year out for students. He suggested that “Attitudes to gap years have always depended on the subject,” adding, “The take-up was always greater in the humanities and social sciences.”

Professor Cooper went on to say that science dons have traditionally viewed gap years in a less favourable light, claiming there was a “danger that students could forget all they had learnt.” He added, “The increase in fees will therefore have had much less of an impact on science students when it comes to gap years.”

He continued, “Overall I don’t think that the academic world is weeping buckets at the drop in the number of people taking gap years.”

In addition, Professor Cooper explained that tutors can be “reluctant” to mortgage properties to students who might “change their minds” during their year abroad and instead apply “for a different course or institution.”

 “Longer holidays than other universities and generous travel grants mean that students can also travel during their time here,” he concluded.

A university spokesperson commented that “only a very small percentage of students apply to Oxford for deferred entry in any given year.”

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