New statistics released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that the number of applications from UK students to Oxford has dropped by 5 percent from last year.
The drop comes after “years of significant growth” in applicant numbers which has seen an increase of 84 percent in total applications to Oxford over the last ten years.
Mike Nicholson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the University, blamed the downturn on the economic crisis.
“The drop in home applicants is not down to us being complacent, but is probably one of the consequences of the economic downturn”, he said.
“Also, there is a demographic trough in school-leavers this year, which we were expecting. Simply there are fewer people out there to apply.”
Nicholson maintains that the University is not concerned by the statistics and pointed out that applicant numbers to Bristol and Cambridge have also decreased. Heads believe applicants may have been deterred from applying due to Oxford’s failure to adopt the A* grade as a requirement for admissions this year.
Tim Hands, head of Magdalen College School, told The Sunday Times: ““These candidates are deciding they would rather apply to places where their achievements will be recognised, particularly in subjects such as maths and sciences.”
Despite the drop in numbers of home students applying, overall applications to Oxford increased compared to the previous year thanks to a spike in international applicants.
Of the 17,299 applicants to Oxford for 2011 entry – up from 17,144 the year before- international students made up 28 percent.
In addition, there were 804 more applications overall from international students this year compared to the previous year.
Of applications from home students, Oxford saw a drop of 3 percent from state schools and a decrease of 8 percent from the independent sector.
Nicholson said the fall in state sector applicants “may be down to factors outside of outreach”.
“76 percent of all UK schools- including sixth form colleges- have had a visit from us,” he said. “We have more school penetration than any other university.”
Nicholson also pointed out that applications from comprehensive schools were up 1 percent from the previous year, which he attributed to Oxford’s outreach program.
According to a press release from the University, Oxford spent £4 million on over 1500 outreach activities to schools, which Nicholson said have been effective.
“We are pleased to see a record number of applicants applying this year, as well as our highest ever proportion of candidates from the state sector”, he said. “The extensive range of activity carried out by the University with teachers, candidates and parents has contributed to the continued success of Oxford in attracting high quality applicants. In particular, the work with comprehensive schools has led to an increase in applications from students in that sector.”
The increased number of applicants to Oxford means that competition for places is getting stronger each year.
“It’s always great to see more high-quality applications,” said Nicholson, “but of course that means that every year it gets more competitive. It’s important that all students with the potential to achieve at Oxford put in an application to us as one of their five UCAS choices. But there are many excellent universities out there, and Oxford is just one of five that students can choose.”
The UCAS statistics also suggest a north-south divide opening up in higher education.
While universities in the south of England have experienced a drop in applications, those in the North and the Midlands have experienced an increase in application numbers by up to 50 percent in some cases.
Applications to Derby increased by 50 percent, those to Liverpool Hope were up by 37 percent and Liverpool University had 21 percent more applications than the previous year.
Ian Roberts, director of admissions at Manchester Metropolitan University, pointed to a combination of higher living costs and the economic downturn to explain the emerging divide.
He told The Sunday Times: “The northwest is well served by local universities and clearly the recession is having an effect. The northwest has lower living costs and represents good value for money.”