Higher fees 'makes students cautious in choosing courses'

exam hall This week students will find out their A-level results - and whether they have got into university

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Higher tuition fees are likely to make students in England more "choosy" this year about their final decisions over university courses, suggests research.

With hundreds of thousands of young people awaiting their A-level results this week, the research from Oxford University indicates debt wariness.

The study suggests higher fees could make students less willing to take places on offer through clearing.

Researcher Helen Carasso says students will be "very selective".

"This may mean fewer of them are willing to go through the clearing process and accept an offer of a course or institution that was not on their original shortlist," said Dr Carasso, from the Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance in Oxford University's education department.

'Pressure'

The study, based on interviews and focus groups with more than 700 sixth formers in England, suggested uncertainty about the financial cost of university - and an awareness that this represented a "significant investment".

Students who get their results this week, beginning courses in the autumn, will be the first to pay higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year.

This meant that there would be greater "pressure on them to make the right decisions concerning where they invest their time and money", said researcher Hubert Ertl.

"However, the complexity of the range of fee waivers and bursaries makes it difficult for them to compare the costs of studying at different universities," said Dr Ertl.

More than three-quarters of these sixth formers believed that graduates would be likely to earn more than non-graduates.

But there remained concerns about the level of debt - particularly among female students.

This week will see students finding out A-level results - and whether they have gained the grades needed for university.

There have been suggestions of a more unpredictable clearing process this year for those who miss out on their grades this year.

Top grades

Universities have been given greater flexibility over how many top grade students they can recruit - with no limit on the number of places for students getting AAB A-level grades or better.

UNIVERSITY APPLICATIONS

  • This year universities have more flexibility over recruiting top grade students
  • It means there is no limit on the number of places for students with A-level AAB+ grades or equivalent
  • About 84,000 students are expected to get these grades
  • Only some universities are planning to expand their intake this way
  • Among those offering more places for AAB+ grades - these places might only be available to those who have already applied to these universities
  • The overall number of places is not increasing
  • More higher education places this year will be offered through further education colleges

A number of leading universities - including Oxford, Cambridge and Durham - are not planning to expand to recruit more of these students.

But there are other universities, including Bristol and University College London (UCL), which are planning to use this flexibility and increase their intakes.

But these extra places in Bristol and UCL will be made available to students who have already applied to these universities.

What remains less certain is whether there will be a knock-on effect from this expansion at the top ability range - when the overall student numbers are not increasing.

But there are many young people who find the clearing process "baffling", according to a survey from London South Bank University and the Student Room online forum.

This found that almost half of A-level students were uncertain about the clearing system for allocating any remaining university places after results have been published.

For students planning to study abroad in countries with lower tuition fees, growing demand looks set to mean higher grades this year.

Maastricht University in Holland says that this year it will require at least three B grades at A-level - with almost 600 students from the UK applying for undergraduate courses, up from almost 300 last year.

Earlier this week, the head of Universities UK warned against any "predictions of chaos" in the application and clearing process.

"The reality for most students is that 2012 will work no differently than previous years," said chief executive, Nicola Dandridge.

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