Records set as more school-leavers than ever apply to university

Figures from Ucas show, however, that total undergraduate applications dipped as those from mature learners nosedived

Although record numbers of school-leavers applied for places at university this year, undergraduate application figures dropped slightly, as those from mature learners plummeted. 

Latest figures from Ucas offer an update on the current application cycle for 2022/23.

The admissions service received applications from 320,420 UK 18-year-olds by its January deadline, up 5% from 306,200 last year. But overall undergraduate applications dropped by 1%, to 610,720, with those from mature students – aged over 21 – falling furthest, by 17%. 

More mature students applied to undergraduate courses during the pandemic, rising 24% in one year on the most recent pre-pandemic levels. This pandemic trend may, the figures suggest, be a blip. 

Applications from 18-year-olds set new records in three of the four UK nations. Rates rose to 44.1% in England, 37.5% in Wales and 52.6% in Northern Ireland, while Scotland’s 35.4% this year was the second-highest ever. 

Churn in the international market renders the headline number of international applicants almost the same as last year, at 111,410. A continuing decline in applications from European Union students – down 19% compared to 2021 and 51% compared to 2020 – saw total applicants number just 20,820. 

Applications from the rest of the world rose again, with the number from India doubling in just one year. Applications from China are up 12%, India 11%, and Nigeria 47%. These figures mean, respectively, UK universities received 28,930, 8,660 and 2,380 applications from critical historic and emerging recruitment markets. 

The chief executive of Ucas, Clare Marchant, said that “robust demand from China, India and Hong Kong shows the enduring appeal of our world-class universities”. Ucas projects it will receive a applications from a million would-be students by 2026, with a two-thirds rise from the international market. 

Ucas says a record 28% of young people from the most under-represented areas of the UK applied this year, up from 17.8% in 2013.

The coming academic year will potentially mark the first for undergraduate students with T-levels. Ucas figures show that, of the 1,300 T-level students, 475 have “a live application”, a figure the admissions service said it “expect[s] to continue rising throughout the remainder of the cycle”.

Added Marchant:  “The entire education sector will be continuing its high levels of support, particularly as students sit formal exams for the first time in three years.

“It will be critical to support students to progress to both full-time undergraduate courses at university and college as well as degree and higher apprenticeship, as we know almost one-fifth of UCAS applicants are pursuing simultaneous applications.” 

A recent report by the UPP Foundation calls on UK universities and the government to invest more in finding work experience and post-study employment for international students if the UK is to remain a premier study destination. 

Research released last October into the attitudes of international students highlighted the threat posed to UK university student recruitment by the US, Australia and Canada markets.

Read more: International students worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy, report estimates

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