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Undergraduate applications to UK universities from the Republic of Ireland have dropped for the fifth year in a row, according to the latest data from the admissions service Ucas.
The downward trend, marking a decline of 31 per cent in the number of people who have applied from the country this year compared with 2012, means that Ireland is now behind France and Italy in terms of undergraduate demand from other European Union countries for UK universities.
The UK’s near neighbour had been responsible for more than a seventh of applications from within the bloc six years ago but now makes up only 9 per cent.
In total, there was a rise of 3.4 per cent in those applying from other parts of the bloc by the Ucas 15 January deadline, but this masks huge fluctuations in interest from different nations.
Another country that had been a major source of applications for UK universities but has seen a big fall is Cyprus. About 2,800 applications had come from the nation two years ago but this fell by almost 16 per cent this year to fewer than 2,400. However, this was just a big one-year change and applications have not been on a long-term downward trend like those from Ireland.
Lewis Purser, director of academic affairs at the Irish Universities Association, said that the pattern was partly due to the increase in undergraduate fees in English universities in 2012 but there was also “a Brexit uncertainty issue” around the future of cross-border study within the EU. “I think the popular discourse and political context around Brexit are also acting as turn-offs for potential Irish students, and Irish families observe with dismay what appears to be going on in UK politics at the moment,” he said.
Other countries that make up a relatively large proportion of applicants from the EU but where there appears to have been a significant long-term drop in demand are Sweden (down 21 per cent since 2012) and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (collectively down 22 per cent since 2012).
The country from where most EU applicants to the UK come is now France, which overtook Ireland two years ago. This year, almost 4,600 people from France applied to UK courses by the January Ucas deadline, a 44 per cent increase on 2012.
However, the steady rise in applicants from France has been surpassed by prospective students from some southern European nations.
The number of people applying from Italy has gone up 68 per cent in the past six years, and the biggest growth in demand from any EU country where there were more than 1,000 applicants this year has been from Spain, where numbers have gone up 140 per cent since 2012 to more than 3,300.
The other country that has seen a upward trend in recent years, and is seemingly unaffected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, is Poland. The number of applicants from the eastern European nation has risen almost 130 per cent since 2012 and was up 23 per cent this year. It is now the fourth-biggest source of applicants for UK universities from other EU countries.