Record numbers accepted at higher tariff universities this year

More than 100,000 UK 18-year-olds were accepted onto courses at the most competitive providers in 2021

The number of UK 18-year-olds accepted onto courses at the most competitive universities has passed 100,000 for the first time, according to Ucas analysis.

103,010 young people across the UK were accepted at higher tariff providers by the end of the 2021 admissions cycle, Ucas’ 2021 end of cycle data has revealed. The figures represent a rise of 11% from 2020, and 28% from 2019 – despite the overall 18-year-old population in the UK rising by only 3% during the same period.

In addition, the number of applicants achieving A level grades equivalent to three A*s nearly quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels to 19,595 (5,655 in 2019), and close to doubled compared to 2020 (12,735).

“Students’ hard work throughout the pandemic has been rightly recognised through their teachers’ assessments,” said Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant.

“Their achievements, combined with the flexibility shown by universities and colleges, means thousands more students are benefitting from the opportunity to study a degree, especially at the most competitive institutions.

Students’ hard work throughout the pandemic has been rightly recognised through their teachers’ assessments – Clare Marchant, Ucas

“While many of 2021’s applicants have progressed with their original plans, we are already seeing high achieving students choosing to reapply in the current cycle, as they carefully consider their options.

“Half of applicants say they’re interested in knowing more about apprenticeships as well as the traditional three-year undergraduate route.

“A crucial part our independent and trusted role is to make sure students know enough about their options to make an informed decision, that’s right for them and we’ve seen searches on Ucas’ Career Finder increase by 45% this year to top 2 million.”

The Ucas end of cycle data also found:

  • The proportion of all UK 18-year-olds with a confirmed place increased to 38.3% (representing 275,235 students), up from 37.0% in 2020 and 34.1% in 2019.
  • Eighty-one percent of all those placed secured their first choice of course, up from 75% in 2020 and 74% in 2019.
  • Deferrals were up 15% on last year – rising to 24,855 UK 18-year-olds.
  • Applications by people of all ages across the UK rose by 5% to 606,645.
  • However, international applications from people of all ages were down 5% on 2020 – applications from outside the EU rose 12%, but those from within the EU dropped by 40%.
  • A total of 749,570 applicants of all ages and domiciles applied in the 2021 cycle – up 3% on 2020).


In October, Ucas 2022 cycle applicant figures suggested there had been a rise of 8% in the number of UK 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds applying to Oxford, Cambridge (pictured), or for medicine, dentistry, or veterinary courses this year.

Ucas will publish further insight into the 2021 cycle – including provider-level data and insight into the pandemic’s effect on nursing applications – in January.

You might also like: More disadvantaged students “aiming high” for 2022, says Ucas

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