FEARS have been raised fewer people are applying to go to university in the face of higher tuition fees.

Higher education applications are down on last year, when a 6.6 per cent drop was seen as a response to the huge rise in the cost of taking a degree.

Students starting their courses last September were the first to have to pay up to £9,000 a year, as fees were virtually trebled at some universities.

University bosses had hoped that reduction in the number of people wanting to continue their studies after A-levels would be a blip, but have revealed concerns there is “no evidence of any great bounce back”.

Official figures from admissions service UCAS showed there had been a further 6.3 per cent fall in application numbers up to mid-December, and although there was reportedly a late surge before last week’s deadline, it was thought to not be enough to bring total numbers above 2012’s figure of 653,600 applicants.

It comes after the University of Southampton recruited 600 fewer students this year.

The drop in admissions came because strict new Government rules meant there was a limit on the number of people the university could accept who didn’t gain top AAB grades in their A-levels.

Southampton had to withdraw early from the clearing process because there weren’t enough would-be students with the necessary grades to fill places.

This year there will be more flexibility, with A-level ABB grades or better becoming exempt from student number controls.

But not all universities saw student numbers drop.

Southampton Solent University saw nearly 4,000 undergraduates start their studies last year – virtually exactly the same number as in 2011.

However, higher education leaders admit concerns application numbers have not recovered from 2012’s dip.

The last time there was a large increase in fees, when they rose to £3,000 per year, there was a one-year decline before numbers began to climb again, but there are fears the impact of the latest rise could be a long-term trend.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of universities, has called for a Government-backed campaign to promote higher education to boost numbers once more.

The Russell Group of leading universities, which includes Southampton, has welcomed the shift to allowing more choice for students with ABB grades.

But it said it is still too early to draw conclusions about this year’s final application figures, which will not be officially released until the end of this month.