University applications fall in the East as tuition fees rise

A level exam, Leiston
A level maths exam at Leiston Community High School Photo: ITV Anglia

Thousands of students across the East are in the middle of their A level exams.

The pressure to make the grade is intense - but fewer school leavers this year will be using those grades to go to university.

The latest figures published by UCAS for the month of May show that university applications across Britain are down by 7.7% on last year. But in the East and East Midlands they have fallen even more sharply; applications here are down 10.4% and 10.5% respectively.

At Leiston Community High School in Suffolk, staff believe this fall is linked to the rise in university tuition fees. The Class of 2012 will be the first year to pay the higher rate of fees of up to £9,000 a year; that's triple the current fee of £3,000 a year.

The Head of Sixth Form, Anne Marie Oaten, says university applications at her school have fallen by about 20% compared to last year. Leiston is an area of rural deprivation and nearly 40% of sixth formers at the high school receive financial assistance in the form of burseries.

She believes the rise in tuition fees is deterring her students from applying.

She told Anglia News that every class is special to staff, but it's particularly hard to say goodbye to this year because of the tough economic climate they will face outside the school gates.

"They are at a disadvantage compared to other year groups I've said goodbye to and I do hope that the degrees that they achieve will give them the careers that they want in the future. But the times are difficult and they are up against it."

– Anne Marie Oaten, Head of Sixth Form, Leiston High School
A level students, Leiston
A level students at Leiston Community High School discuss tuition fees Credit: ITV Anglia

Today is the last day of school for Leiston's upper sixth form and students are grappling with the dilemma of what to do when the exams are over.

Emeny Conway would like to pursue a career in the Police Service and says she would have applied for a criminology degree at university if she'd left school last year. But the rise in fees has put her off, and now she's looking at other routes into the profession.

"If I was going last year I would definitely go to university because it's not so worrying about being in so much debt when you leave. This year it's almost tripled."

– Emeny Conway, A level student

Kathy Boycott-Brown has already decided that an apprenticeship would be a better route for her. She has a scholarship with BT in design and engineering and hopes this will help her secure an apprenticeship with the same firm.

Kathy is excited by the future, but also daunted about the scale of the challenges facing her year group.

"It's put people off wanting to sort out their future because they've got the fees at university and then if they don't go to university they've got the problem of finding a job, because there's no jobs around. I think it is especially hard for our year at school, just to decide what they want to do."

– Kathy Boycott-Brown, A level student

The last day of school is a major landmark for anyone, but the Class of 2012 could be forgiven for thinking this is one of the toughest years to start making your own way.