From education to employment

UK University Applications Defy Recession Fears with Record Youth Demand

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15 February 2024 – New university application data from UCAS shows continued demand for higher education in the UK, with over 316,000 18-year-old applicants this cycle. This represents a 0.7% increase compared to 2023 and the second-highest number on record.

The overall application rate for 18-year-olds stands at 41.3%, down slightly from 2023 but up significantly from 2019, indicating resilience in the face of economic uncertainty. Applications from disadvantaged backgrounds also rose by 2% to over 37,000 students.

There are positive signs for degrees in technology and engineering, with applications up 10% and 7% respectively since last year. This suggests these critical subjects remain attractive. However, applications for nursing degrees have fallen across specialisms, mainly driven by a 10% drop in mature UK applicants.

Globally, UK universities continue to appeal to students from overseas. International applications rose by 0.7%, with increases seen from important markets like China (+3%) and Turkey (+37%). Total applicants across all ages and regions reached nearly 595,000.

While application numbers have marginally declined in England and Wales, they rose by 2% in Scotland. The attractiveness of UK higher education remains strong around the world. Despite a difficult economic climate, young people still see the long-term value of pursuing a degree.

Sector Response

Dr Jo Saxton, Chief Executive at UCAS: “It’s encouraging to see record high numbers of disadvantaged students applying for university, with more of these students aiming high for the most competitive courses. This reflects the efforts made by schools, universities and colleges to improve access to students from all backgrounds.

“While today’s data shows a decline in applications from mature students, which will be more keenly felt in some subjects such as nursing, we know that these applicants are more likely to apply later in the cycle.

“For any students who missed the deadline or are still undecided on their next steps into higher education, they can still apply until 30 June, and afterwards directly to Clearing, and plenty of choice still remains.

“There is a wealth of support, guidance and tips on the UCAS website to help anyone make informed choices about their futures.”

Matt Western MP, Labour’s Shadow Universities Minister, responding to the new UCAS applications data, said:

“The opportunity to study at the UK’s world-class universities should be open to all, but it is clear the Conservatives are doing little to tackle stark challenges across the sector.

“The Conservatives are leaving young people outside London and South East facing greater barriers to studying at university, cutting off opportunities and leaving our country worse off in the failure to grow and support the skills and abilities of these young people.

“Labour’s plan for schools will tackle this, we will close regional attainment gaps with our plan to boost young peoples’ outcomes at school, including recruiting thousands of new expert teachers in the areas that need them most, retaining more of our expert school staff and broadening the curriculum to enable every child to thrive in their education.”

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