The number of students winning places at UK universities by applying after the main admissions deadline has increased dramatically.
Ucas said that 16,950 applicants were accepted by higher education institutions after applying direct to clearing in 2017, up 2,100 (14 per cent) year-on-year.
This is 1,740 higher than the previous record in 2015 and indicates, according to the admissions service, “an increasing appetite among applicants to apply very late in the cycle” and after the main 30 June deadline.
In contrast, the number of students winning places through clearing after missing out on their firm or insurance choices declined by 0.2 per cent, to 49,920, according to the first data from Ucas’ End of Cycle Report 2017.
Overall, the proportion of 18-year-olds in the UK population who entered higher education hit a record high this year, reaching 32.6 per cent after a year-on-year rise of 0.7 percentage point. The number of UK-domiciled 18-year-olds who won places climbed to 241,585, an increase of 1.1 per cent, despite a fall of 1.2 per cent in the size of this age group.
However, the total number of acceptances declined by 1,290, or 0.2 per cent, to 533,890, the first drop recorded since 2012. This was driven in part by a drop in acceptances of older students: the number of over-19s from the UK who won places slipped by 5,184 (2.3 per cent).
The number of European Union applicants who were accepted fell by 2.1 per cent in 2017, declining by 650 to 30,700, in the wake of the UK’s vote for Brexit. Ucas said that, if previous growth trends had continued, “acceptances from the EU would have been around 10 per cent higher than observed”.
This was offset by 5 per cent growth in non-EU acceptances, up 1,900 to 40,245.
With the overall number of applications having decreased by 2.6 per cent, students applying this year had their best chance of winning a place in a decade, with 76.3 per cent of applicants claiming a place (up 1.8 percentage points). For UK applicants only, the acceptance rate was 80.9 per cent, the highest figure on record.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the MillionPlus mission group, said that while the increase in admissions among 18-year-olds was to be “warmly welcomed”, the further decline in the number of mature students “suggests that what started as a downturn is now a crisis, which ministers need to address if their laudable ambitions of improving social mobility are to be fulfilled”.
In a continuation of an existing trend, the number of acceptances by providers with the lowest entry requirements declined by 2.7 per cent, while the most selective universities enjoyed 0.4 per cent growth. Medium-tariff providers reported the strongest performance, expanding by 2.3 per cent.
Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group, said that the mission group would be “closely monitoring” EU applications.
“If it turns out that the fall in places this year is due to the continuing uncertainty posed by Brexit, it reinforces our call for the government to provide greater clarity for EU students coming to the UK,” she said.
“In particular, they should confirm at the earliest opportunity the fee rate and other financial support that EU undergraduates and postgraduates might be eligible for from 2019-20 onwards as well as arrangements to stay for further study or work after graduation.”