Undergraduate applications up 4% after UK vaccine rollout

The latest undergraduate application data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) in the United Kingdom shows there are more applicants than in previous years, with a corresponding rise in offers from universities.

As a result of data received by the 30 June deadline, UCAS is predicting that increases in applications and offer-making will see a record number of students starting university or college in the autumn.

As of 30 June 2021, the final date to apply to up to five courses simultaneously, a total of 682,010 applicants (+4% on 2020) made 2,955,990 applications (+6%), resulting in 1,998,690 offers (+3%) made by universities and colleges.

Looking just at UK 18-year-olds, there are 311,010 applicants (+10% on 2020), who made 1,474,900 applications (+12%), resulting in 1,147,460 offers (+10%) from universities and colleges. Applications and offers are up in each of the four nations of the UK.

Applications to the most selective universities have increased and offer-making from these institutions is also up from last year’s high – including a 20% rise since 2019 in offers to students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

UCAS’s CareerFinder, which helps students find jobs and degree or higher apprenticeships, saw a record 1.35 million searches in the last 12 months, up 37% from 986,000 in 2020. These searches have resulted in 225,000 job applications, an increase from 181,000 last year (+24%).

‘Rising significantly’

UCAS Chief Executive Clare Marchant said: “Today’s numbers show the clear demand for undergraduate study and apprenticeships is growing, rising significantly during the pandemic. Universities are ready to welcome more students onto courses this autumn and have worked hard to be flexible, enabling students to progress to their next level of study.”

Dr Hollie Chandler, head of policy (higher education) at the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, said: “It is positive to see continued strong demand for quality higher education, which will help provide undergraduates with high-level skills and opportunities that will be crucial both to their individual success and the needs of the economy as we emerge from the pandemic.

“The increase in offers by higher tariff providers to UK 18-year-olds, including those from the most deprived areas, reflects our universities’ commitment to be as fair and flexible as possible to ensure students are not disadvantaged in their applications by the changes in the awarding of A-levels and equivalent qualifications this year.”

Responding to the data, University and College Union General Secretary Jo Grady said: “It is hugely encouraging to see record numbers of applicants to UK universities. With applications up across the sector, this is an overwhelming vote of confidence in the high-quality teaching and support that university staff provide students.

“It is particularly encouraging to see increases in the numbers of people applying to study humanities, social sciences and the creative arts across England, despite the Conservative government’s continued attacks on these subjects.

“If ministers are serious about delivering a strong post-pandemic recovery, they must abandon all proposed funding cuts to the arts and take action to bolster this vital sector of the UK economy.”

But she warned that it is important that universities match increased student numbers with increased investment in their staff.

“Across the sector, employers are putting jobs at risk, holding back pay and attacking pensions. Ultimately, cuts impact on students as staff become increasingly stressed and burned out,” she said.