Applications have fallen this year by around 3% for students aged 18. With annual tuition fees rising to a maximum of £9,000 this year, it's easy to see why some 18-year-olds may think twice before applying to university, and decide the financial cost is too great.
Many parents are confused about the costs involved and not least whether they ought to be saving for their children's education instead of their own retirement. If you have more than one child who may go to university, how much of a financial commitment is it for you as a family?
The cost of going to university is a political football, and one which is constantly changing. But if you want to keep ahead of the game, you need to know some basic facts.
Regardless of your income, all students receive a tuition fees loan which covers these fees annually. Students don't see this loan in their bank accounts: it's paid directly to the university.
In addition, they are eligible for a maintenance loan: this pays for their accommodation, food, books, transport and of course, entertainment.
This is where your income as a parent kicks into the equation. If your household income is under £50,000, then your child will be entitled to the full loan, currently just under £5,000 a year.
If your income is over that figure, your child will receive 72% of that loan, and the rest is income-assessed. The expectation is that you will top-up their loan. For students whose parental income is below £25,000, they can also be paid a grant of up to £3,000 a year which is not repaid.
All students will leave university with a debt up to £27,000 for their tuition and an additional debt of up to £15,000 for accommodation and living expenses.
But how does all of this work in practice? With accommodation costing £4,000 a year upwards, the maintenance loan barely covers that, let alone food, books and travel. Are parents finding that contributing to the loans is not possible?
Alice, a part time teacher in her fifties, described what happens in her family. "My daughter is training to be a doctor, taking five years. We pay for her accommodation, which is around £4,000 a year, and then she has her maintenance loan to cover food, travel, books, clothes and entertainment. Our son Dan is in his first year of a four year degree. We do the same for him. They both work during the holidays, and have a small amount saved from birthday and Christmas money. I am aware though that I will probably have to keep on working until Dan has completed his degree - neither of us is a high earner and we still have a mortgage."
Other parents such as Emma, are already paying for their son to attend an independent school. "I am expecting to carry on paying for university and it won't be much different to what I pay now."
Parents such as Helen remember how "I lived at home for two years when I was a student and worked at weekends, to fund my degree. I'd expect my children to make the same kinds of sacrifices. We save £10 a month for each of them and it may go towards university when they are older."
Caroline pays her son £250 a month towards his living costs. His grandmother gives him a small monthly sum too. Caroline feels that the age gap of seven years between her son and younger daughter is a blessing when it comes to university fees, otherwise they'd have to find twice as much. At the same time though she says, "I will be pushing 60 before my children are financially independent."
Some students do have part time jobs, but some degrees are more demanding than others, and part time work is not as easily available as it was.
But is it right that parents should have this financial burden for their children who are legally adults? Lesley told me, "As soon as my step-daughter's wedding is out of the way, we will be putting our savings into the university fund. I don't feel it's right, but at the same time, we want to try to help them."
So should you pay off any of the loan when you can? Money experts advise against paying off tuition fees in lump sums. These are repaid once students earn more than £21,000 - the money is taken directly out of their salary each month on a sliding scale. The debt is written off after 30 years- so if they have periods when they are not in work, or earn less than £21,000, they won't repay anything.
One thing is certain: going to university is expensive and it's never too soon to plan ahead.