Ucas: acceptances to medicine courses at highest level on record

University and college level application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle reveal continued growth of STEM subjects

The number of students accepted to study engineering, healthcare and computer science subjects has increased this year, new subject data from Ucas shows

Acceptances to STEM subjects have increased in real terms and as a percentage of places in UK higher education. 

The number of students accepted to engineering subjects across all tariff providers has increased by 21%. Biological sciences and computer sciences followed a similar trend, with acceptances rising this decade by more than 50% and 47% respectively.

The withdrawal of the NHS bursary in 2017 led to an immediate decline in nursing course applications – latest statistics show that applications this year rose to 62,920 applicants and almost returned to 2011 levels.

Government funding has helped expand capacity in nursing, and medical courses. Acceptances to nursing courses increased by 57% – equivalent to an additional 13,635 students. The number of students accepted to medical courses is now at the highest level on record, growing 37% since 2017. An extra 22,120 applicants were accepted to subjects allied to medicine this year compared to 2011. 

Mathematical and physical sciences have increased by a fraction of a percentage; acceptances have increased for both subject areas at high tariff providers, off-setting big drops at lower tariff providers. Higher tariff providers accepted 1,925 more students to mathematical science courses than 10 years ago, for example, but medium and lower tariff providers accepted 1,685 less. 

Humanities subjects have decreased in popularity over the last decade, according to the latest Ucas data. English studies have seen a decrease from 10,020 acceptances in 2011 to 6,980 this year in 2020, and historical and philosophical studies from 15,060 in 2011 to 12,870 – this decline appears “confined” to lower and medium tariff providers, the admissions agency said. 

Modern language degree courses, across all tariff groups, have decreased by both than a third in the past decade, from 6,005 to 3,830. 


Other increases: 

  • Law increased from 22,720 acceptances in 2011 to 29,105 in 2020, with substantial increases to both higher and medium tariff providers.
  • Business increased from 61,100 acceptances in 2011 to 75,515 in 2020. There were increases across all tariff bands.
  • Psychology acceptances increased from 16,685 in 2011 to 26,200 in 2020. There were increases across all tariff bands, with medium and higher tariff providers experiencing the largest increases.

Clare Marchant, chief executive at Ucas, said: “There are a lot of factors that go into what subjects students choose. It is pleasing to see that they are responding to economic cues with increased demand for subjects like engineering and, inspired by the work of the NHS, with more mature applicants and 18-year-olds applying for nursing.

“The decline in accepts to languages could exacerbate the languages skills gap in the wake of Brexit, therefore it is important that action is taken to promote the benefits of languages across the education sector.”

Unconditional offers

The number of unconditional offers continued to rise, despite an Office for Students (OfS) moratorium and repeated warnings from ministers from March 2020. Although the number of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers dropped from 82,560 to 34,340, other types (including direct unconditional offers) increased, pushing the total to 156,280, nearly 20,000 higher than last year.

More than 90% of all Falmouth University offers contained an unconditional component – more than seven in 10 offers made by the universities of Suffolk, Winchester, Cardiff Metropolitan contained an unconditional component.

Nottingham Trent, Liverpool John Moores, De Montfort, Lincoln and Edge Hill awarded the largest number of offers with an unconditional component – between 11,090 and 5,600 in total.

In response, an OfS spokesperson: “The increase in unconditional offers seen in the 2020 cycle is in part accounted for by a large number of unconditional offers that occurred in a short period in March 2020 before the moratorium on unconditional offers and our own Z3 condition came in to force. Our Z3 condition remains in force until 30 September 2021.”


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