First increase in university applications in three years

University students graduating in Portsmouth
by Hayley Pearce | 8 Feb 2019

Record numbers of English and non-EU students applied

A total of 561,420 people applied to start a UK degree course in 2019 — almost 2,500 more than last year, and the first increase in three years.

A record 38.8 per cent of 18-year-olds in England have applied for university so far this application cycle, which is up 1.4% compared to this time last year.

According to UCAS data released following the January 15 application deadline, there were also a record number of people applying to UK universities from outside the EU — 63,690, an increase of 9%.

Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the number of applicants from the European Union has also increased — by 1%, to 43,890.

Applicants from China and Hong Kong have almost doubled since 2012, and make up 21,000 applications this year, compared with 18,850 from Wales.

‘Welcome news’

Clare Marchant, chief executive at UCAS, said: “In this time of uncertainty, it’s welcome news to see more EU and international students wanting to come and study in the UK. 

“Alongside this, demand from UK 18-year-old students remains strong, despite the falling numbers of this age group in the population.

“The unexpected rise in the application rate from English 18-year-olds, against the population trend, signals they still recognise the challenge and rewards of full-time undergraduate study.

“However, interest in our apprenticeships hub and our insight research shows that almost a quarter of this age group are also considering an apprenticeship at the same time, and we can expect students to keep their options open.

“In addition, it’s important to remember that students can still apply until 30 June, and afterwards directly to Clearing. And we know that mature students are more likely to apply later in the year.”


TSR member PQ said he found the figures "surprising," adding: "There's some interesting shifts between subjects. Social sciences have overtaken art and design as the fourth most popular group of subjects."

"And I doubt English and history departments are feeling comfortable."

According to UCAS data, there has been a fall in applications for both history and philosophical studies and linguistics, classics and related subjects, though numbers have been falling for both subject groups at least as far back as 2016.

Brexit's impact

These figures come after the Russell Group of universities said there was a 9% decrease in the number of EU postgraduate research students enrolling at its institutions this academic year, after a similar decline the year before.

And the number of EU students who enrolled at Russell Group universities for the 2018-19 academic year fell by 3%.

But last year, there was a 1% increase in the overall number of EU citizens studying in the UK, after years of steady growth.

Advantaged vs disadvantaged gap narrows

As well as there being an overall rise in the number of applicants, the gap between the most and least advantaged applicants has narrowed.

This year, a record 23.2% of young people who are classified as living in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK have applied, which is up 1.3% compared to last year.

This is compared to 53.5% of those living in the most advantaged areas, a growth of 1%.

Some universities have policies for increasing the number of applications they get from people from less advantaged areas.

Unconditional offers

The University of Nottingham, which has recently announced it will stop making unconditional offers to students who do not already hold their qualifications from this September, has said it used unconditional offers to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As well as unconditional offers, universities give students from less advantaged areas more favourable offers.

In a thread about getting reduced offers for medicine, TSR member HateOCR said: “You can get reduced offers if you had an unexpected circumstance or come from a disadvantaged background.”

In a TSR thread about the figures from UCAS, TheNewLad said: “My hypothesis is that with the rise of unconditional offers, a degree will slowly become less valuable, thus more necessary, so we're going to start seeing a constant rise.”

He added: “My reasoning is as a degree becomes less valuable and more common, more employers will ask for it as a necessity, so more people will decide to go to uni.”

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