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University applications rise during lockdown, with fewer students currently planning to defer

Clare Marchant, UCAS' Chief Executive
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A total of 514,020 people of all ages from across the UK have now applied through @UCAS_Online this year for a place on an undergraduate course – up 1.6% on this point in 2019, and reversing a fall in UK applicants from earlier this year.

Today (9 Jul), UCAS publishes the latest update on university and college applications made by 30 June 2020 – the final deadline to apply for up to five courses simultaneously.

This analysis is being published within seven working days of the deadline. A record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied – the first time more than four out of ten have applied by this point in the cycle.

Last year’s equivalent figure was 38.9%. This means 281,980 young people have applied, increasing from 275,520 a year ago, despite there being 1.5% fewer 18 year olds in the population than last year. 2020 is also projected to be the final year of a UK-wide decline in the overall number of 18 year olds in the total population.

For the first time, over a quarter (25.4%) of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (using the POLAR4 measure) across the UK have applied to university of college by the 30 June deadline. The number of applicants from outside the EU is currently up 10% to 89,130, while the EU applicant total is currently 2% lower than last year, at 49,650.

The overall number of applicants, of all ages from all domiciles, currently stands at 652,790, and is the highest figure in four years. This year, there has been a 10% increase in the number of new applicants between the 15 January and 30 June application deadlines – 84,600 in 2020, compared to 76,740 in 2019.

There was also a 17% increase in new applicants between 23 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 – 54,810 compared to 46,770 in the equivalent period in 2019. Applicant numbers for nursing are up 15% year-on-year, to reach 58,550. The number of new nursing applicants between January and June was 63% higher than the same period last year (12,840 in 2020, compared to 7,880 in 2019).

Analysis published by UCAS two weeks ago also showed that more applicants have accepted an offer to start a course this autumn, with fewer students currently planning to defer than in 2019.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

‘At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

‘Universities and colleges are setting out their ambitions to welcome students to their campuses this autumn, with many planning to blend high quality online learning with faceto-face teaching and support. Confidence is building for an autumn term that safely captures the essence of the academic year’s traditional start as much as possible.

‘We should celebrate seeing so many people keen to embark on a rewarding career in nursing. Inspirational stories throughout this pandemic have clearly sparked imaginations, with people from all walks of life applying, determined to help others at a time when our universities are making huge contributions to fighting coronavirus.

‘Students will continue to need support over the summer to successfully transition onto their courses, including the record number of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our popular weekly live Q&A sessions will cover a variety of topics, with experts on hand to help guide students, complementing the information and advice available from UCAS online, through social media, and over the phone.’

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Universities UK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis, said:

“It is very positive to see that there is a record number of UK 18-year-olds wanting to study at university this autumn. It shows that individuals recognise the many benefits that a university education brings for their life chances, career prospects and their future. It is particularly positive to see that more than one in four young people from disadvantaged areas have applied to university or college, and to see a growth in those wanting to study nursing courses. I am sure many will have been inspired by the stories we have seen during the pandemic of student nurses and university staff contributing to the national effort and supporting their local communities.

“Students can be confident that they will benefit from a high quality and positive experience university this autumn, with the vast majority of universities planning to deliver much teaching, student support and social activities in-person.”

Statistics published today by UCAS show a 2% rise in university applications by 18-year-olds from the most deprived areas of Wales.

The statistics show 21.6% of 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas applied up until the end of June, up from 19.4% last year.

The data also show a record proportion of 18 year olds from Wales applying to university. Applications reached a high of 33.6%, an increase of 0.7 percentage points.

Welsh universities have also seen an increase in applications, with a rise of 6% in applications to Welsh providers, to over 128,000.

The Welsh Government has radically reformed the student finance system in Wales in recent years, with a fundamental shift towards supporting students with their day-to-day living costs, and increased support through a mixture of grants and loans.

The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, said:

“I’m delighted to see these statistics, which shows that the gap between applicants from the most and least deprived areas is narrowing.

“As a Government, we believe that high-quality education is a driving force for social mobility, national prosperity and an engaged democracy.

“We’re opening up higher education to more people than ever, providing the most generous student support package in the UK. Wales is the only country in Europe which offers equivalent living costs support for undergraduate full-time, part-time and post-graduate students.

“There has also been a significant 6% increase in applications to Welsh institutions. Welsh universities lead the way for student satisfaction and research and it’s great to see more and more students choosing our universities.”

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