Over half of young people from all social backgrounds aspire to go to university and we are helping them to fulfil that aspiration. The latest UCAS figures show that acceptances from England are up by 7.4 per cent. (22,764) on the same point last year, and this year's figures are the highest ever. Increasing initial participation in higher education towards 50 per cent. of those aged 18-30 is challenging but an essential investment in our future prosperity.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, told the House on 8 January 2004 that there would be an independent review of tuition fees, reporting to the House, once we had evidence on the first three years of the variable fee regime. The first three years of operation will not be concluded until autumn next year.
At the end of the new ‘University Challenge’ consultation we were delighted to receive 27 initial expressions of interest from across the country. These demonstrated a widespread recognition of the value of university centres to education, economic development, regeneration, and the cultural life of rural areas, towns and cities. HEFCE are currently preparing a policy document to guide formal applications. We expect to fund 20 new local higher education centres over the next six years.
We have a world-class higher education system in this country with rising student numbers and an increasing world share of citations and high impact research papers. Total Government investment in HE will rise by 30 per cent. in real terms by the end of this CSR period compared to 1997. This is in sharp contrast to the 36 per cent. fall in funding per student between 1989 and 1997. We have also doubled investment in research.
I want to ensure our university system will still be world class in the future. That is why we are currently consulting on the framework for higher education for the next 10 to 15 years.
The debate is progressing well, and I am delighted by the healthy level of engagement and discussion it has provoked. As well as the contributions we published last year, we have received a number of submissions from businesses and others who depend on universities for their success. We will publish these shortly.