A sharp rise in the number of applications from European Union students is shown in the first official figures for university admissions for 2006, when top-up fees are introduced.
According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, applications from within the EU have climbed 15.1 per cent since last year. The data refer only to applications to Oxford and Cambridge universities and to medicine, veterinary science and dentistry courses, all of which have early application deadlines.
The figures show an overall drop in applications of 0.1 per cent to 59,881; an early indication that candidates have not been deterred by top-up fees.
The figures also reveal a rise in applications for medicine of 2.6 per cent and for veterinary medicine of 2.4 per cent. While home student applications have dropped by 2.1 per cent, those applying from overseas and outside the EU, in particular Singapore, Nigeria and the US, climbed by 5.4 per cent. Applications from Poland have almost doubled to 305 while those from Germany and Cyprus show 11 per cent and 23 per cent increases respectively.
Virginia Isaac, Ucas head of marketing and communications, said: "The accession of ten new countries into the EU might explain the rise in applications from European candidates.
"They have opened up a new market for UK universities. They might feel that the deferred fee system is advantageous because they won't have to pay upfront."
Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said: "These figures demonstrate that university remains an attractive proposition to many thousands of young people."