Record numbers of disadvantaged students in the UK have applied to go to university this year, according to official figures that also show international recruitment has held up with a surge in applications from Nigeria, India and China.
According to data published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), overall applications for UK 18-year-olds have exceeded all previous records, raising concerns about competition for places on the most popular courses as some universities try to rein in numbers after over recruiting during the pandemic.
Universities will, however, be pleased to see continuing growth in international student numbers, which went up 3% overall with 135,000 applications. International students pay higher fees than their UK counterparts, which help offset the declining value of domestic fees that have been eroded by inflation.
The most striking increase in applications came from students in Nigeria, where there has been a 58% jump in the number seeking to study in the UK, though from a low base. Ucas said it had received 5,290 applications, up from 3,360 in 2021 and 1,670 in 2019. Elsewhere there has been a 20% increase in applications from India and a 10% increase from China with 31,400 applications this year.
Sarah Stevens, director of policy at the Russell Group of research intensive universities, said: “Today’s figures show that despite a highly competitive environment, the UK remains a world-class destination for international students.
“The strong growth in applications from India and Nigeria, prioritised in the UK’s International Education Strategy, demonstrate efforts to attract students from across the world are beginning to pay dividends.”
Figures published on Thursday for applications by Ucas’s 30 June deadline show the application rate from 18-year-olds living in the most disadvantaged areas in the UK stands at 28.8%, up from 27% in 2021 and over 10 percentage points higher than in 2013.
A total of 38,300 students from the most disadvantaged areas of the country have applied to university this year, and while these figures represent a narrowing of the gap the application rate for 18-year-olds from the least deprived areas remains the same at 59.5%.
Clare Marchant, the Ucas chief executive, said: ‘It’s really encouraging to see students from disadvantaged backgrounds apply in record numbers, despite the disruption the pandemic has caused to young people’s education.
“Ucas’s analysis shows that universities and colleges are continuing to support the progression of these students with targeted offer-making that we predict will see record numbers of disadvantaged students start university and college in the autumn.”
The overall application rate for UK 18-year-olds stands at 44.1%, but Ucas was at pains to reassure students concerned about competition. “Over the next few weeks, we’ll see a huge effort across the education sector to support more than 700,000 students begin the next chapter in their educational journey and we believe that record numbers of students will get their firm choice this year on results days,” said Marchant.
“Nearly 30,000 courses are now available in clearing across many courses and institutions. There will be plenty of choice available to students who are unplaced or use Clearing as an opportunity to rethink their plans.”
The Ucas data also showed that 490 people have become the first T-level students to apply to university this year. The qualification is a two-year vocational qualification intended to be broadly equivalent to three A-levels and includes an extended work placement.
It also showed a fall in the number of nursing applications, with an 8% drop across the UK from the previous year. Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said this is “further evidence” things are “heading in the wrong direction” during a workforce crisis compromising patient care.
The newly appointed minister for further and higher education Andrea Jenkyns said: “It is fantastic to see a record number of 18 year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas applying for university.
“This year also marks a key milestone for T Levels and it is encouraging that so many students have applied for higher education.”