Minister defends tuition fee rises

Graduation ceremonyThe Government has defended its decision to treble university tuition fees after independent experts said fewer youngsters were applying for courses.

Figures show the number of would-be students applying to begin university courses in England in September dropped by 9% compared with last year.

An independent commission was set-up to establish whether there is any link between student numbers and tuition fees, which the Government has raised to a maximum of £9,000 a year.

Commission chairman Will Hutton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "University fees are not going up in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and the long-term trend of rising applications that we have seen in England is carrying on in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
"There is a discernible difference."

Speaking a week before A-level results are published, Universities Minister David Willetts said: "We do accept that after a peak last year, applications are down from 31.6% of people applying to university to 30.6%.

"That is actually still the second highest rate of applications on record."

But he told the programme: "We still have very strong demand for university."

Mr Willetts said the new system, which sees students pay their fees once they have graduated, was fairer and "much more like an income tax", with repayment starting once they earn £21,000 a year.

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