The number of students applying for degree places in the UK has grown by 8 per cent this year, official figures confirmed this week.
The figures suggest that older students and females are leading the charge to avoid top-up fees, set to be introduced from 2006 onwards.
Some 32,600 more people than last year - enough to fill two medium-sized universities - had applied to study at UK institutions by March 24, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
In total, 438,642 applicants had applied for full time undergraduate courses at universities and colleges starting in 2005.
The growth in applications is slightly down on that indi-cated by figures collated by the official deadline of January 15.
Demand from students aged over 21 is up 11.4 per cent, while demand from women students is up 8.8 per cent.
However, applications from students outside the European Union have fallen further since this year's earlier deadline. Numbers are now down by 5.7 per cent compared with those at the same time last year.
Part of the decline is due to the reclassification of accession countries as members of the EU - but the fall in overseas applications will fuel fears that hikes in visa fees are discouraging students from coming to the UK.
Applications from China are 25 per cent down on last year, while those from Malaysia and Singapore have dropped by 6.4 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.
Meanwhile, demand from Nigeria has boomed, so that the country has overtaken Hong Kong in sending the third highest number of students to the UK, behind the Republic of Ireland and China. Nigeria accounted for 3,455 applicants, with 4,255 applicants from China and 6,586 applicants from Ireland.
Electronic applications have risen to 75 per cent of all applications in comparison with 52.6 per cent received at the same point last year.