Two in five 18-year-olds in UK apply to study at university this year

Ucas figures also reveal record numbers of students from China and India

Two out of every five 18-year-olds in the UK are applying for a place to study at university this year, along with record numbers of students from China and India, according to figures from the university admissions service.

Ucas, which operates the application process for higher education, said the number of UK sixth formers applying for undergraduate places rose to 275,300, despite a 1.5% decline in the UK’s overall 18-year-old population, suggesting the appetite for university education remains undimmed by tuition fees, accommodation costs and rising student debts.

“Students are making the most of this year’s unprecedented opportunity to apply to university, as more applicants are expected to receive offers, the equality gap continues to narrow, and the UK’s 18-year-old population is expected to grow again in 2021,” said Clare Marchant, the Ucas chief executive.

Marchant also welcomed the rising number of entries from mature students aged over 30, especially in applications for nursing courses, after several years of decline.

Overall, 568,330 domestic and overseas students of all ages had applied by the 15 January deadline to start undergraduate courses this autumn, a rise of more than 1% since 2019.

While all regions in England recorded rising participation rates, London became the first where more than 50% of sixth formers applied for places.

Across the UK, applications from young people in the areas with the poorest educational backgrounds rose at twice that of areas with the highest attainment, shrinking the gap between the two. However, students from the most advantaged areas were still 2.24 times more likely to apply to higher education, Ucas said.

The gender gap also widened among 18-year-olds, with 46% of women submitting applications compared with 33% of men. Social sciences continued to be the most popular courses among UK sixth formers, with 148,910 applications. But business and management rose by 5% to 146,850.

The Department for Education said it was pleased by the record number of international applicants from outside the EU, largely driven by a 34% increase in applicants from China to surpass 22,000, and a 33% increase from India to 6,230, as well as 15% more students applying from Hong Kong.

“Given historically lower acceptance rates of Chinese applicants compared to UK domiciled applicants – approximately 57% compared to 82% – it is expected that the number of acceptances from China will remain lower than from Wales but could be higher than from Northern Ireland,” Ucas noted in its commentary.

Applications from students in EU countries were down slightly, with 860 fewer overall than in 2019. That left a total of 43,000, compared with the 45,000 applications received before the 2016 referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

Other data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed the proportion of students living with their parents during termtime rose to nearly 20% last year, overtaking those living in university halls. Rented private accommodation remains the most popular option for 30% of students, while 8% live in private student halls.

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Richard Adams Education editor

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