Higher tuition fees are not putting off teenagers in the North East from going onto higher education, the head of a North East university believes.
Northumbria University vice-chancellor Prof Andrew Wathey was speaking after a warning was sounded about the number of poorer children in the region going to university.
Only a fifth of 15-year-olds across England who receive free school meals went on to higher education in 2010/11, compared with more than a third of those not getting the dinners, according to new statistics published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Figures out today will also suggest that rising numbers of school leavers are pursuing alternative options to university, with the number of people applying for schemes such as apprenticeships and vocational courses through one website has more than doubling in the space of a year.
Rising tuition fees have been highlighted as one of the factors deterring poorer students but, Prof Wathey believes that young people are not being put off by fees of up to ï¿½9,000 a year.
He said: “Applications in 2013 have recovered from the 2012 dip, particularly among 18-year-olds. Although there are fewer 18-year-olds, the number applying to university has actually gone up.
“While the North East has a low percentage of 18-year olds applying to university (32%), the gap with the national average of 35% is narrowing. Applications to a number of the North East’s universities stand at their highest levels ever.
“These points send important signals about public understanding of the benefits of going to university.
“It has long been known that university graduates live longer and more healthily, that they earn more and have much lower unemployment rates than non-graduates. Now it seems that the salience of that message has found strong resonance with students and their parents.”
Northumbria has one of the country’s best records on attracting pupils from state schools and disadvantaged backgrounds, beating Government targets for attracting students from low participation areas.
Through the university’s bursaries and scholarships, a high achieving student from a low income family studying at Northumbria could receive a financial support package worth up to ï¿½6,000 per year.