Applications for university and college courses starting this autumn have bounced back, while provisional admissions figures from Oxford University show that the success rate of state and independent school applicants might have equalised.
The number of people who had applied to universities by the December 15 deadline was up - albeit by less than 1 per cent - according to figures released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
"This is excellent news for higher education," Ucas chief executive Tony Higgins said.
The recovery follows a decline in the numbers who had applied by November 20 2000 and suggests a continuing trend in late applications.
The deadline for the 2002 entry has already been extended by a month to allow extra time for students taking the new A-level curriculum.
More than 333,600 people had applied by December 15, a quarter of them electronically.
Scotland, which abolished tuition fees last year, saw the greatest increase in the number of applicants - up 5.5 per cent.
The number of overseas applicants fell by 6.5 per cent, and applications from the Republic of Ireland were down by a quarter.
In Britain, the number of applicants aged 25 years or older declined 2.3 per cent, although there was a large increase in the numbers in this age group applying from overseas. In the 21 to 24-year-old group, the number of British applicants was up by 4.9 per cent.
Early Oxford figures obtained by Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat higher education spokesman, show that 42 per cent of applicants from both maintained and independent schools were successful. Last year 40.3 per cent of applicants from maintained schools were successful, compared with 44.6 per cent from independent schools.
There was a decline in the number of applications from further education colleges (358 compared with 459 last year) despite an initiative to encourage them.
The colleges have until the end of this month to finalise their figures.
Last January, Mansfield College and six other Oxford colleges launched an initiative to forge links with FE colleges. Janine Fisher, an Oxford graduate and former FE student, was appointed recruitment officer with funding from the Sutton Trust.
She said: "We believe that applications to those colleges involved in the consortium have increased. This year Mansfield had 14 applications, compared with nine last year."