Declining teenage population numbers could be playing a significant role in student shortfalls.

Figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics in a UK National Population Projection show the number of 16 to 18-year-olds could fall by more than 90,000 from 2011 to 2015 – from 2,279,948 to 2,186,192.

Experts believe this could have an impact on recruitment figures for further education (FE) and sixth form colleges.

Last week, FE Week revealed colleges are facing a significant shortfall following a report by the funding consultancy, and publisher of FE Week, Lsect.

The survey, completed by more than 100 FE and sixth form colleges, reported a shortfall – at the time – of 20,319 students.

Initially, the blame was partly placed on the government decision to axe the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which paid up to £30 a week to poorer students, with other issues such as schools marketing themselves better to their pre-16 students.

we are expecting quite a big decline in the demographics, and then it will go back up again.”

However, Rob Elliott, product manager for Capita Further and Higher Education, which works hand-in-hand with colleges to help improve business decisions, said demographics could have an impact on college recruitment.

He said: “Every year we look at the issues in the market. It was highlighted a couple of years ago that there is this decline (in 16 to 18 year-olds) coming along. This must be having an influence on recruitment.”

The theory is backed by David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Forum, who is leading a comprehensive survey into recruitment figures.

He said: “I feel it is having an impact. But it’s not just from our survey, but also data from the YPLA and the national statistics. This has been well-known and we are expecting quite a big decline in the demographics, and then it will go back up again.”

However, the pair also blames a number of other issues. Mr Igoe said: “Although early in our survey stage, colleges seem to be reporting two issues. One is the EMA and the other is higher education tuition fees.”

Meanwhile, Mr Elliott said: “There are the other points in there as well. The (cut of the) EMA I’m sure is having an impact. It’s also not necessarily schools marketing themselves better, but it’s the Department of Education promoting that side too, such as the work on free schools.”

A follow-up survey this week, again conducted by Lsect, shows a slight improvement on last week’s figures (click here to download responses).

In all, more than half – 58 per cent – of the 102 colleges who responded say their recruitment figures have “improved a little”, while only two per cent say they have “improved a lot” on last week’s statistics.

Meanwhile, 11 per cent say their figures are “a little worse because of withdrawals” with one “a lot worse”. The remainder say they have either not improved, or were on or above their target last week.

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