There has been a significant fall in the number of people applying to go to college next year, according to figures by the Central Applications Office.

Initial figures show that 4.5% fewer people have applied so far this year, compared to the same time last year.

Today was the normal application deadline and by close of business this evening, the CAO had received 72,751 applications.

This time last year, 76,213 had submitted applications, which represents a decline of 3,462.

Although there was no increase last year, the trend in previous years has been a steady rise in application numbers.

This year's drop stands in contrast with that.

Making an initial comment on the decline, the head of the Higher Education Authority Dr Graham Love said the fall may have to do with the increase in the number of apprenticeship places now being offered to school leavers.

He also said it may be the case that school leavers were deciding to go straight from school into jobs.

The CAO application process is not fully closed yet.

A late application facility will open early next month. However a late application attracts a higher fee.