EU applications to UK universities plummet by 40 per cent

Despite drop in interest from European Union, overall applications to UK universities by January deadline rose this year

February 18, 2021
Empty arrivals board illustrating Australia’s closed borders, international students
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The number of people from the European Union applying to study at UK universities has fallen by 40 per cent in the wake of Brexit uncertainty, according to Ucas.

Overall, applications to UK universities rose by 48,030 to 616,360 – an increase of 8.5 per cent – by Ucas’ January deadline, which was pushed back from 15 to 29 January this year.

However, applications from the EU fell by 17,020, from 43,030 to 26,010 this year. The drop in applicants was spread proportionally across England, Scotland and Wales. There was a 38 per cent decline in EU applicants to English universities, from 37,200 to 23,180, and a 40 per cent drop in EU applicants to both Scottish and Welsh universities.

However, Northern Ireland’s universities registered a 38 per cent increase in EU applicants to 2,280 applicants. The data also showed that the number of Irish applicants to UK universities grew by 26 per cent to reach 4,850.

The number of EU applicants to UK universities had decreased at the previous January deadline, but by only 2 per cent, and had been rising steadily since 2012 to a peak of 43,890 in 2019.

According to Ucas, “the short-term effects and uncertainty at the end of the last calendar year surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and changes to student support arrangements, have impacted on applications from the continent”.

The number of applications from outside the EU continued to rise this year, increasing by 17 per cent to 85,610. Applications from China and India grew by 21 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively, but the US recorded the largest proportional growth of any major nation, swelling by 61 per cent to 6,670.

The data show that UK applications rose by 12 per cent to 504,740. This included 306,200 18-year-olds, representing 42.6 per cent of that age group, the highest level ever seen.

Applications from mature UK students also climbed this year: the number of those 21 and over applying rose by 24 per cent to 96,390.

Wales racked up the overall biggest proportional increase in applications, up by 17 per cent to 72,810. Applications to universities in England rose by 8 per cent to 551,940, in Scotland by 12 per cent to 132,960 and in Northern Ireland by 15 per cent to 23,540.

The largest proportional increase in UK applicants by their declared ethnic group came from black and mixed-race students, both up 15 per cent, to 40,690 and 25,830, respectively. White student applications grew by 11 per cent to 352,170 and Asian student applications rose by 10 per cent, to 70,140.

Ucas said more than a quarter – 26.4 per cent – of 18-year-old students from the most disadvantaged areas applied this year. This is up from 24.5 per cent at the same point in 2020. The application rate for 18-year-olds from the most advantaged areas was 59 per cent this year.

Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said the “fall in demand from EU applicants is a source of concern”.

“The UK government and universities must continue to demonstrate how much they value European students by working together to promote the UK as a high-quality destination for study and by offering new forms of financial support.”

He added that it was “encouraging to see more people of all ages and backgrounds choosing to study at UK universities, recognising the broad range of benefits that a university degree will bring them throughout their lives.”

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said “overall, applications are buoyant as students plan their futures for life after lockdown. We expect offer rates to remain at the high levels of recent years as universities and colleges have several months to plan and be flexible to accommodate the increase in applicants.”

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