From education to employment

Students grasp best opportunity in decades to apply to university

568,330 people applied by the 15 January deadline to start an undergraduate course at a UK university or college this year – an increase of 1.2% from the equivalent point in 2019.

A record 39.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied, up from 38.2% last year. This means 275,300 young people applied, increasing from 270,685 a year ago, despite 2020 projected to be the final year of a UK-wide decline in the overall number of 18 year olds in the total population.

All English regions have seen record application rates, with a new high of 52.6% in London, marking the first time more than half of all 18 year olds in any region of the UK have applied to university by the January deadline. 18 year olds in London are now 1.54 times more likely to apply to higher education by the 15 January deadline than those in the North East – the region with the lowest application rate.

The gap between the most advantaged and disadvantaged students (using the POLAR4  measure) applying has narrowed to a record low. Almost a quarter, 24.6%, of young people from the most disadvantaged areas have applied – up from 23.3% in 2019. This compares to 55% (53.4% in 2019) from the most advantaged areas, meaning the most advantaged students are now 2.24 times more likely to apply – down from 2.30 times last year.

 Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: ‘Students are making the most of this year’s unprecedented opportunity to apply to university, as more applicants are expected to receive offers , the equality gap continues to narrow, and the UK’s 18 year old population is expected to grow again in 2021.

‘Full-time undergraduate courses aren’t the only route for young people though. This year, for the first time, everyone researching their options with UCAS will have access to personalised information in the new UCAS Hub , with greater parity given to advice on alternatives. Almost a third of the Hub’s 150,000 registered users have said they want to find out more about apprenticeships.’

The number of UK applicants aged between 30-34 has increased for the first time in five years, which can mainly be attributed to a rise in mature applicants for nursing courses.

There were a record 73,080 applicants from outside the EU, a 14.7% increase, driven by a 33.8% increase in applicants from China, and a 32.9% increase from India. There has been a 2% decrease in total applicants from the EU – 860 fewer overall.

Clare Marchant continues: ‘The rise in mature applicants is also welcome news, and the increase in nursing applications for the second year running comes during the both the ‘We are the NHS’ campaign  and the World Health Organization’s Year of the Nurse and Midwife .

‘The global appeal of studying at our world-class universities and colleges is once again proved by record application numbers from international students.’

For most higher education courses, an application must be submitted to UCAS by 18:00 on 15 January, to guarantee it will receive equal consideration by universities and colleges. With 98.3% of main scheme UK 18 year old applicants (and 88% of all main scheme applicants) applying by the January deadline last year, these statistics provide a reliable reference point for demand each year.


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