Fewer students have applied to start university this year says admissions body Ucas, raising concerns it's down to confusion over higher tuition fees.

The total number of applications for 2012 has fallen by 7.4% compared with the same point last year, with 540,073 applications received this year compared to 583,546 in 2011.

Key Points

  • Total number of 2012 applications falls 7.4%
  • Number of UK applicants decreases by 8.7%
  • Annual fees jump to up to £9,000 for 2012 starters

Ucas's figures are for all those who applied before the 15 January 'equal consideration' deadline, by which all applications must be looked at by the institution.

The number of applicants from the UK has decreased by 8.7% overall, with the biggest decrease amongst those applying from England; a fall of 9.9% compared with 2011.

Applications from older age ranges have also decreased at a greater rate than those from school leavers.

Annual fees in England will jump to up to £9,000 for those starting in September 2012. Currently courses cost a maximum of £3,375 per year.

Fees are also rising to this amount in other parts of the UK, but the situation varies for students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales who plan to study in their home nation.

'No doubt higher fees have put some off'

Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com creator and head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, says: "There is no doubt that the new higher fees in England will have put some students off.

"More difficult is assessing how big a problem that is. The worst case scenario is that it is those from non-traditional university backgrounds who are wrongly panicked into feeling they can't afford fees or scared of being saddled with huge unmanageable debt.

"The best case scenario is that this is a legitimate call from those who have investigated the cost, the value, and evaluated university is now not for them.

"I suspect it's a mix. Recently fewer sixth formers I've met are bothered about the headline debt figure than six months ago. They're now far more sanguine and understand there's no fees to pay upfront, and that you only need to pay on graduation if you earn enough.

"Yet we still have a job to do here in communicating the facts about fees. The most important thing I'd say to prospective students is if you want to go, you can still apply. Do your reading about how the finance works before writing off this opportunity.

"It is unfortunate those involved when this decision was made weren't able to get a hold of this issue a little earlier, but it is my hope that the Taskforce has made a difference to perceptions about university fees since its albeit late launch."

Prospective students have until 30 June to apply to start university in the 2012/13 academic year, but any application sent after 15 January will be considered a 'late' application, meaning the institution has no obligation to consider it.