A couple of days ago UCAS released their year-to-date data for 2012 entry. Mark Leach has already pointed out that the year-on-year falls reported by certain media mainly tell us how strong applications were last year. The point is actually made very clearly by a couple of graphs from the UCAS release:
So it is clearly too early to panic, but at the same time it is too early to relax either. Applications at this point in the year are no guide to applications at the end of the process. Even if (and it is an if) we have reason from these data to think that applicants think their first-choice universities are worth the new, much higher, fees that tells us little about how they may value second choice universities and therefore what may happen in Clearing.
Although people sometimes talk of 'selecting' and 'recruiting' institutions, almost all universities are active in Clearing to one extent or another, and plenty depend on Clearing to fill courses which would not otherwise be viable.
So I agree with Mark's stated conclusion that the 'data can not offer us any serious conclusions about why people are/are not applying for university', but perhaps I'd put greater emphasis on the remaining downside risks. That's the kind of fun guy I am.