STUDENTS in the south are turning their backs on university after tuition fees were trebled, new figures show.

More than 4,100 fewer applications were made this year compared to 2011.

It came as thousands of young people marched in London yesterday to protest against the rising costs of higher education.

The annual cost of most courses starting last month has soared to almost £9,000.

John Denham, the Southampton Itchen MP and the former Secretary of State for Universities, said application numbers had risen every year under the Labour government.

He said: “When the government trebled tuition fees we warned that there was a danger that some young people would decide that university was not any longer for them.

“It looks like the whole of our area, including Southampton, has been really badly hit.”

Official figures from UCAS, the university admissions system, show application numbers fell in every constituency across the region.

They are the first statistics comparing the number of university applications – from each parliamentary constituency – with 2011, before fees trebled.

In the Itchen constituency, there were 1,969 applications this year, compared to 2,192 the previous year.

In Meon Valley a drop of 21 per cent was recorded, from 3,747 to 2,952.

By June 2011 there had been 39,641 applications across the south, but this year it had fallen to 35,532.

Most universities are charging close to £9,000 a year for courses, not the £6,000 predicted by ministers, after state funding for higher education was slashed.

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: “Families across the country are seeing their dreams of going to university disappear before their eyes.”

But the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) insisted the fall had nothing to do with rocketing fees, which had made the funding system “fairer and more progressive”.

And Whitehall sources said the 2011 total had been artificially inflated by students taking up places immediately - rather than taking gap years - to avoid higher fees in 2012.

And a BIS spokesman said: “Most students will not pay upfront to study, there are more generous loans, grants and bursaries for those poorer families, and loans only need to be repaid once graduates have jobs and are earning over £21,000.”