The Government is defending its decision to treble university tuition fees after independent experts said fewer youngsters were applying for courses.
Figures show the number of would-be students applying to begin university courses in England in September dropped by 9 per cent compared with last year.
An independent commission was set-up to establish whether there is any link between student numbers and tuition fees, which the Government has raised to a maximum of £9,000 a year.
Commission chairman Will Hutton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "University fees are not going up in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and the long-term trend of rising applications that we have seen in England is carrying on in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
"There is a discernible difference."
However, Universities Minister David Willetts has defended the rise in fees, he said: "We do accept that after a peak last year, applications are down from 31.6 per cent of people applying to university to 30.6 per cent.
"That is actually still the second highest rate of applications on record."
Mr Willetts said the new system, which sees students pay their fees once they have graduated, was fairer and "much more like an income tax", with repayment starting once they earn £21,000 a year.