A total of 2,850 English residents had applied by 16 December for courses starting in autumn 2014, according to figures released today by Ucas.
That was a fall of 1 per cent on the same point in the 2013 cycle and lower than any figure for the same point going back to 2010, the oldest figure supplied by Ucas.
However, the final deadline for applications is not until 15 January, so there is time for the figures to bounce back.
“This is an interim point in the application cycle and, unlike statistics for application deadlines, no direct comparison between cycles is possible,” Ucas said in its release.
In the 2013 cycle, application numbers increased by 72 per cent between the December comparison point and the January deadline, the Ucas figures show.
Applications for the 2014 cycle at the mid-December comparison point increased by small margins for Scottish residents (up to 14,110 from 14,050 at the same point in the previous year) and Welsh residents (up to 11,410 from 11,220).
But there was a fall in applications from Northern Irish residents, from 10,530 to 10,100.