UUK has posted about the latest UCAS data on the UUK Blog. I posted about these data yesterday and made some similar points. The UUK analysis concentrates mainly on the 18-year old cohort for whom it is true (unlike the other age cohorts) that applications are not down very much. This is fair enough on its own terms, but we need always to remember that 18-year-olds are a minority of all applicants.
The egregious Simon Hughes is clearly relying on this UCAS/UUK analysis as the basis for his wholly untrue and misleading case in the Guardian:
The most charitable interpretation is that Simon Highes is completely ignorant about HE admissions and has never looked at any applicant data in his life, in which case it is a shame that analysis from UUK and UCAS has so seriously misled him. Less charitable explanations are possible.However, a more objective analysis of the data shows a clearer picture. Although applications were down by a significant number, the total number of 18-year-olds in England this year is significantly down as well. If you adjust the figures to take account of changes in demographic, the application rate in England – which is where the changes in higher education policy have the greatest effect – has declined by only 1%. Just as important, the decline is proportionately higher in areas where more people go to university and which tend to be more affluent (where the figure is 2.5%) compared with more deprived areas, which very encouragingly have hardly seen any decline at all (0.2%). Both of these figures compare with a 3.5% population-adjusted decline in applications across England when the Labour government introduced top-up fees for the 2006 academic year.[my emphasis]