Applicant numbers for university places beginning in autumn 2012 by UK-born students have fallen by 7.6%, figures show.
The University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) has revealed a drop of more than 23,000 applicants compared to this time last year.
They also show the total number of applications to English institutions has fallen by 7%.
The drop coincides with the first year where tuition fees of up to £9000 are to be introduced, following the coalition government’s controversial changes to higher education funding made last year.
Average tuition fees for students starting full-time undergraduate courses in 2012 is to be £8,354, a figure which fell £39 in last December after a fifth of universities applied to lower their fees.
However, UCAS Chief Executive Mary Cook warned “Applicants are taking longer to research their choices but the applications flow has speeded up, as these statistics show.”
“It remains too early to make predictions about the final year-on-year figures but we will be able to get a clearer picture after the deadline has passed.”
Subjects allied to medicine, veterinary science and algriculture, and physical sciences were the only courses to buck the trend and show an increase in total applications.
The figures also showed that applicants from other EU nations to British institutions fell by 10.7%, while those from outside the EU went up by 13.3%.
University think-tank Million+ chairman Professor Les Ebdon said, “Rather than breathing a sigh of relief that application figures appear to be recovering, ministers need to launch a campaign to ensure that older students understand the loan system and the opportunities available.”
The final deadline for UCAS applicants is January 15.