EU applicants dropped 40% this year, new Ucas data shows

The number of non-EU international applicants increased again – particularly for higher-tariff universities

Universities UK (UUK) has expressed its concern about new figures from Ucas that show a 40% drop in EU applicants this year.

The figures published today by the UK universities admissions service show that the number of applicants from the EU decreased to 26,010 this year, down 40% from the previous year. Ucas argued the reduction was the result of the “uncertainty” of Brexit.

UUK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said the government should work with the sector to “demonstrate how much they value European students” and offer applicants “new forms of financial support” to study in the UK. Some universities have announced subsidies for EU students starting this September. Royal Holloway offered EU students fee reduction scholarships, which means they will pay the same tuition fees as UK domiciled students.

The figures suggest that higher tariff providers, which on average saw applications from EU students drop by 36%, were less affected than lower tariff providers, which saw application figures fall by 47%. Students can submit between one and five applications in an admissions cycle, so these percentage reductions are not a measure of applicant figures – but the data suggests the impact of Brexit is uneven across the sector. England, Wales and Scotland were all affected by similar percentage reductions.

However, the number of applicants from outside of the EU increased by 17% this year – to a record 85,610. Applicants from China and India increased to 25,810 (up 21%) and 7,820 (up 25%), respectively. Applicants from the USA increased by 61% to 6,670 – the highest proportional increase of any nation. The overall number of international applicants has fallen slightly, from 116,110 to 111,630.

Higher tariff providers gained most in this regard: the number of non-EU overseas applications increased by 21% – which more than offset the fall in EU applications at those universities.

Overall, 616,360 people had applied through Ucas; an 8.5% increase from last year, and a new record for this point in the application cycle. More than 300,200 of those are UK domiciled 18-year-olds, which represents 42.6% of the age group. According to Ucas, 2021 is the first year that more than two-fifths of school-finishers have applied to higher education.

We expect offer rates to remain at the high levels of recent years as universities and colleges have several months to plan and be flexible to accommodate the increase in applicants
– Clare Marchant, Ucas

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said: “Overall, applications are buoyant as students plan their futures for life after lockdown. We expect offer rates to remain at the high levels of recent years as universities and colleges have several months to plan and be flexible to accommodate the increase in applicants.”

Ucas POLAR figures show that more than a quarter of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged parts of the UK applied, an increase on last year. However, the gap between the most advantaged and least advantaged students has not narrowed since 2012. Applications have risen between 9-10% for all POLAR groups in the past decade.

Applicants from all ethnic groups increased this year – and black and mixed-race students accounted for the largest proportional increase, both up 15%, to 40,690 and 25,830 respectively.

Nursing course applications rose by almost a third (32%) to reach 60,130. The number of applicants to medicine and dentistry, medical courses, and veterinary sciences increased by 19%, 27% and 21% respectively. Applicants to European language courses dropped by 12%. Since 2012, applicants to these subjects have fallen from more than 21,000 to 12,000.

University Alliance chief executive Vanessa Wilson said: “The latest figures from UCAS show a promising trend in applications, particularly in the growing demand for healthcare-related courses. Alliance universities train over a quarter of the nation’s nurses and will play a vital role in preparing the next generation of healthcare workers; bridging the staffing gaps in the NHS, and aiding the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.

“It’s also pleasing to see that applications for creative arts and design courses have remained buoyant. A strong pipeline of creative talent, ideas and skills will be essential for unlocking future innovation, enterprise, growth and productivity as we look to build back better.”

The Russell Group welcomed the news that non-EU applicants have risen. “With changes to assessments in 2021, Russell Group universities are working closely with Department for Education and Ofqual, as well as the devolved administrations, to try and ensure a smooth admissions process that minimises the stress on students.

“Whatever the assessment system this summer, we want to reassure students across all four nations of the UK that Russell Group universities will be as fair and flexible as possible, so they are not disadvantaged in their applications.”

The OfS welcomed the number of applicants from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.


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