Midland universities insisted young people had not been put off applying by the Government’s decision to triple tuition fees – despite a dramatic drop in numbers.

The number of applications to Birmingham University fell by 1,603 this year, with 24,467 potential students applying compared to 26,070 last year.

Applications to Aston University fell by 2,339, to 9,082. At Warwick University, applications fell by 3,035 to 27,179. But all three universities said they had put up the grades required to win a place, which led to a fall in applications.

A spokesman for Warwick University said: “Last year we received seven applications for every place. We’ve dealt with this by increasing the minimum grade requirement for entry to AAB.

“It still means we’ve had six applications for every place, which provides us with a real challenge as we have to choose between students who all have very good grades. But we have no shortage of applicants.”

The University of Birmingham also pointed out that the number of applications was lower than last year but was similar to previous years. In 2008, 33,089 students applied, 2,629 fewer than this year.

A spokeswoman said: “Although our application numbers are down on 2011 they are similar to figures in previous entry rounds.

“It is also important to note that for 2012 applicants we have increased the minimum entry requirement for nearly all our programmes to ABB, with the majority requiring either AAB or AAA.

“The University of Birmingham remains a highly sought-after destination amongst applicants and we have had a large number of excellent students applying to Birmingham.”

A spokesman for Aston University said: “Although we have had fewer applications, we have still received more than four applicants per place.

“We have increased our entry requirements for some of our most popular courses in 2012 compared to 2011, which has in part resulted in receiving fewer applications, in line with the national picture.”

The Russell Group, which represents 20 of the UK’s leading universities including Warwick and Birmingham University, also warned that figures had been artificially high last year, as students chose not to take gap years in an effort to avoid the fee increase.

Other universities actually saw the number of applications increase, even compared to 2011. At the university of Wolverhampton, the number of students applying for degree courses rose by 1,326 to 18,317 and at Coventry University, applications rose by 648 to 23,336.

Applications to Birmingham City University fell by 1,603 to 24,467.

Students beginning their courses later this year will be the first to be liable for new fees of up to £9,000 a year, almost triple the previous limit of £3,290.

Graduates start to repay the fees once they are earning a salary of more than £21,000. Around a quarter of graduates, those on the lowest salaries, will pay less under the new system.

Critics of the fee rise have claimed that application figures published this week prove the increase led to a fall in the number of young people going to university and UCAS, the body responsible for university applications, reported that the total number of applicants nationwide was 540,073, down 7.4 per cent on last year.