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Ups and downs in student applications for higher education

Ups and downs in student applications for higher education

Higher education experts have welcomed the upward trend in applications to start undergraduate courses at British universities this coming autumn from 18-year-olds from the four corners of the United Kingdom and from key international markets such as China, India, Nigeria and Canada.

Overall applications to begin full-time undergraduate university and college courses in the UK have fallen slightly, from 616,360 in 2021 to 610,720.

The 1% decline in applications by the key UCAS deadline of , which guarantees that applicants will receive equal consideration’ for most higher education courses for 2022 entry, was caused by a 17% drop in mature applicants from the UK and a 19% fall in applicants from the 27 member states of the European Union.

Layoffs and working from home made more adults reconsider their career and future options and opt to start that degree they missed out on first time round, and 2021 proved truly exceptional for mature applicants, accelerated by factors related to the pandemic, said Richard O’Kelly, head of data and analysis at UCAS.

The additional 20,000 UK mature applicants, which increased the total to 96,000 applicants by the e when much of the UK was in the middle of a third lockdown and there was pessimism about the economy. But this trend hasn’t been repeated as the economy picks up and a lack of labour has pushed up wages.

The latest UCAS data shows the number of mature applicants falling back to a shade over 80,000 on 18 February, but that is still higher than the pre-pandemic levels of the high 70,000s, according to a blog by O’Kelly on the education policy think tank WONKHE.

The UCAS data for shows 4,920 fewer applicants from EU countries, which represented a the year which eventually saw a 56% plunge in EU students placed on UK higher education courses by , when the number of accepted EU applicants fell from 22,430 at the same period in 2020 to 9,820 in 2021, also as reported by University World News .

The one exception to the falling numbers applying from EU countries is Ireland, which saw a 5% increase in applications to 5,100 applicants.

This means that for the first time at this point of an application cycle, we are approaching 45% of all young people in the population applying 43.4% in 2022, compared to the previous record of 42.6% in 2021, said O’Kelly in his WONKHE blog

Fuelled by both the continual attractiveness of undergraduate study and ongoing population rises that will be seen throughout the next decade, we anticipate the number of home students applying each year directly from school or college to increase by around 25,000 for the next few cycles to surpass 400,000 in 2026, he added.

1% from China, to almost 29,000, and up by 10.7% from India, to reach 8,660. Hong Kong saw a decline of 400 applicants to just over 6,000.

The most substantial proportional increases come from Nigeria up 46.9% and Canada, up 17.8% with both countries having around 2,400 applicants so far this year.

Outside the UK and EU, the latest UCAS figures show that applicants using the admission system were up by 12

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Singapore and Malaysia are bouncing back after falls in recent years up 6.9% and 5.4% respectively and have more than 3,000 applicants each, returning to levels seen around five years ago.

However, there was a fall in applicants from the United States after last year’s rapid growth and numbers are down by nearly 1,400 to 5,280 which is still up on 2020.

O’Kelly said UCAS forecasts that non-EU applicant numbers will continue their upward trajectory in the coming cycles increasing by almost two thirds to be a significant factor in reaching a million overall applicants by the middle of the current decade.

This will be important in fighting off growing competition for internationally mobile students as borders reopen and travel restrictions end, to ensure the UK sustains and builds on its global student targets.

Dr David Pilsbury, chief development officer at Oxford International Education Group and former deputy vice-chancellor (international) at Coventry University, told University World News that the positive numbers from UCAS are welcome, but added: Only a small proportion of overseas students come through UCAS, so it is an indicator not a determiner of trends.

We also need to recognise that these sector level figures mask very different outcomes for different sorts of universities. Leading universities in the UK, as in Australia, have seen recruitment from China remain buoyant through the pandemic.

It is recruiting universities that have seen China numbers devastated by COVID and whilst these universities are not currently hurting because they are seeing record numbers from India, that is not going to last.

So, I hope this does not stop the UK sector innovating and refining its offer, as it would be unwise to believe that students currently interested in the UK will not be seduced’ to going to Australia or other destinations, he said.

Pilsbury also warned that much of the current froth in the UK market is down to students who would previously have focussed on going to Australia, opting to study in the UK while physical access to Australian universities was beyond the reach of international students.

Dr Janet Ilieva, founder and director of the global consultancy Education Insight, told University World News that the slowdown in growth in non-EU applications to study in the UK compared to previous years was a likely indication that other countries have reopened their borders, and students are again considering other study destinations for their undergraduate degrees.

She said: The year-on-year growth in non-EU applicants was 15% in 2020 (9,330 applicants) and 17% in 2021 (12,530 more applicants), compared to 5% growth in 2022 (4,700 applicants).

With the decline in EU applications, the overall number of international applicants compared to 2021 has hardly changed, according to the latest UCAS figures.

The recent growth in international student numbers reported by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which saw the British higher education sector celebrating reaching its 2030 goal of 600,000 international students, as reported by University World News , was largely down to big increases in postgraduate student numbers from countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria, Ilieva pointed out.

Fortunately, the UK is currently experiencing a sharp rise in the number of 18-year-olds, which has helped boost the number of home applicants to record levels, with just under 15,000 more young people in their final year at school applying pushing the number to more than 320,000

The UCAS figures concentrate on the undergraduate market, but this may change in the future as the service has just launched a new platform dedicated to international postgraduate students called Myriad by UCAS.

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