Today UCAS publishes analysis of full-time undergraduate applications – the first reliable indicator of demand for UK higher education this cycle.
So far, 593,720 people have applied to UK higher education courses in 2016, an increase of 0.2% compared to the same point last year.
UK applicant numbers (495,940) have decreased slightly (-0.3%), due to fewer English applicants (-1%) mostly aged between 20 and 34. The number of applicants from Northern Ireland has risen by 2%, and by 1% from Scotland and from Wales. EU applicants (excluding UK) increased by 6% compared to the previous cycle, to 45,220.
There is a 2.2% decline in the UK 18 year old population this year, and while applicant numbers from this age group have increased (+1%), growth is smaller than in recent cycles. There is a 5% decrease in applications from those aged 20-24.
Application rates for UK 18 year olds – which take into account annual population changes – are at record levels, rising for England, Scotland and Wales and unchanged for Northern Ireland.
Our report shows further growth in demand for higher education but the declining 18 year old population and a decrease in older applicants means the actual number of UK applicants available for universities to recruit remains flat
Overall, young people from the least advantaged areas of the UK are more likely to apply to higher education than ever before (+5% in England, +2% in Scotland, +8% in Wales, but -4% in Northern Ireland). As last year, the most advantaged remain 2.4 times more likely to apply.
The difference between application rates from men and women in 2016 is the highest on record. In England, young women are 36% more likely to apply to university and when both sexes are from disadvantaged backgrounds young women are 58% more likely to apply.
In around half of UK parliamentary constituencies between 30-40% of young people now apply to higher education. Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS Chief Executive said: “Our report shows further growth in demand for higher education but the declining 18 year old population and a decrease in older applicants means the actual number of UK applicants available for universities to recruit remains flat.”
University Alliance Chief Executive Maddalaine Ansell said: ‘Making university education available to everyone who can benefit is fundamental to social mobility in Britain. So it is encouraging that those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to apply than ever before. This is testament to the hard work of institutions, that want to contribute to society, reaching out. But as the Prime Minister has rightly highlighted this week, large disparities still exist. Today’s statistics reveal the persistent gap in application rates between localities, as well as a large and worrying fall in numbers of applications from mature students.
‘The whole HE sector has a responsibility to do better to identify and nurture talent wherever it exists – this will require creative thinking and innovative approaches.’