FEWER youngsters in Swindon are applying for university.

Applications from Swindon students for courses starting in the autumn are down nearly 15 per cent on last year, according to the latest figures from the admissions service.

Figures from UCAS show that 1,253 students applied by the June 30 deadline for going through clearing, compared to 1,469 last year – a fall of 14.7 per cent This is slightly higher than reductions over the same period of 11.4 per cent in Wiltshire, 10 per cent across England, and 8.9 per cent across the UK as a whole.

This will be the first year group to face higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, and it is thought that the hike may have put some people off.

The biggest fall for the UK 2012 intake is among the mature student age group. Applications from 19-year-olds and those aged between 25 and 29 are down by 12 per cent.

Among 18-year-old school leavers, the fall has been less marked, approaching three per cent.

In Swindon, university applications from New College students are down, mirroring the national drop, but principal, Graham Taylor, said they are still expecting to get more students into university than anywhere else in Wiltshire.

They are expecting about 450 students to get into university, the third-highest figure the college has ever achieved.

“It looks as if headline fees of £9,000 a year have put some learners off,” he said. “All this will make universities think long and hard about what they are offering, at what price and for how long.”

Mr Taylor said it was important the college gets the information, advice and guidance right so that learners can make an informed decision about their future.

He said loans can put people off but education can be a really good personal investment if it’s thought through. The college runs personal finance courses to help their learners make an informed decision.

Swindon College , in North Star Avenue, saw the number of apprentices it was taking on increase by 15 per cent this year. The college has 900 apprentices on its books this year, but will also see hundreds of students heading on to university in September.

Principal Andrew Miller said: “We have just over 2,000 16 to 18-year-olds. Over the past few years more and more of them have been going to university. “We have more than 300 now progressing on to university degree courses. Although there is concern about higher tuition fees in higher education at the moment, from our point of view it doesn’t seem to be putting students off being ambitious.

“In addition to that out apprenticeship numbers have gone up this year. There are more and more students wanting to get that work experience.”

Swindon’s MPs said the increased fees would make students think more seriously about whether university was the right path for them.

Robert Buckland, the Swindon South MP, said: “I think the important point to make is the decision to go to university is something that should be one that’s made carefully. Higher education is a great opportunity for many people but it’s not the only way in which young people can progress.

“There are so many other ways, whether it’s going into the world of work or a more vocational approach.”

Mr Buckland, pictured below, who studied law at Durham University, said the fee changes were needed for British universities to compete with better-funded foreign institutions. He said: “People have got to look to the long-term. If you get a job that pays well, you will be able to pay the debt off and if you’ve got a job that doesn’t pay well, you will not have to pay that debt off.”

Justin Tomlinson , the Swindon North MP, said people might have heard university was an expensive option, but when they look into it based on their individual circumstances they find it is not.

He said: “I think there are two factors. First of all, the funding for higher education is complex and therefore Martin Lewis, of Money Saving Expert, has been tasked to present the options in as clear a manner as possible.

“Secondly, there are concerns for potential graduates about job prospects and some have chosen to take advantage of extended work-based schemes, the doubling of the number of apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships.”

Mr Tomlinson, who studied business at Oxford Brooks before setting up a Swindon-based marketing firm, said he probably would have been better starting his firm sooner and saving the money rather than going to university.

He said: “We’ve created a conveyer-belt to university that implied you had to go. “If you want to be a doctor or a vet, you’ve got to study for X number of years, and quite rightly so. But I wanted to be a young entrepreneur, so maybe the university environment was not right.”