Deferral rates rise and clearing figures fall, latest Ucas data shows

Although record numbers gained university places on results day this year, the total figures so far placed, including via clearing, are almost the same as last year

The number of students choosing to defer their place in higher education is higher at this point in the admissions cycle compared to last year, itself a record year for deferrals.

The latest figures from Ucas suggest deferrals are up 12% on this time last year, from around 25,000 to 28,000. The numbers in question are, in proportion to the numbers placed – just over 496,000 at the last count – still relatively modest. It could hint at wariness among applicants about the continued disruptive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on universities – or growing optimism for the chance to travel, work or take a break from full-time study.

Figures from clearing suggest that university phone lines may be quieter than in previous years.

Compared to last year, when 58,610 applicants were placed via clearing 15 days after results were released, this year, that figure has dropped to 41,350, a reduction of more than 26%. However, the numbers of registered applicants yet to be placed via clearing is much higher than last year – up 23% to 142,290.

It means that, although results day this year beckoned record levels of enrolments, the total figures so far placed, including via clearing, are the same as last year. The decision to axe the SQA and Ofqual moderation algorithms shortly after results day slowed the application process in 2020, as universities grappled with rapidly changing sets of results.

Although the total number of placed students is the same as this time last year, this similarity masks a stark reduction in places for applicants from the EU. Domestic students make up the lion’s share of placed students – up 3% on last year – while the number of international students placed at this point after results day is down 18%, the lowest level seen since 2015. There are now 75,720 EU students with places, compared to 92,640 last year and 85,300 the year before. The number of applicants from non-EU that hold a place at a UK university has risen 4% to 59,160, its highest to date.

Higher tariff providers have so far accepted more applicants than lower-tariff or medium-tariff providers, with the numbers placed in these elite institutions 5% higher 15 days after results day than at this point last year. This figure is perhaps unsurprising given that a record 45% of A-levels awarded this year were A* or A, thereby widening the pool of eligible students – but it also reflects a year-on-year trend of rising admissions at higher-tariff institutions.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds appear to have benefitted least in the swell in enrolments. The Ucas indices of multiple deprivation (IMD) data suggests that 27.6% of students from quintile one – the least advantaged group – have accessed HE, compared to 26.6% last year. In contrast, 50.7% of students from quintile five – the most advantaged group – access HE, compared to 48% in 2020. The year-on-year increase in placed applicants was equivalent to a 1% rise for quintile one students and a 4% rise for quintile five students.

Ucas also uses POLAR4 to measure improvements in access and participation. Students in quintile one are considered the least advantaged based on the percentage of young people from their neighbourhoods that access HE. Students in quintile five are considered the most advantaged. POLAR4 access rates have improved by 2% for the least advantaged students and 3% for the most advantaged.

Read more: Results day: widening participation stalls as university offers confirmed – Ucas

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