Middlesex University has topped a list of institutions that have expanded full-time undergraduate numbers, according to an analysis by The Times Higher .
Universities that have previously struggled to attract students appear to have turned the corner. Luton and Thames Valley universities increased the number of students they enrolled by more than 10 per cent.
But several institutions recorded large falls. At Derby University the number of students accepted fell 19 per cent, according to data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
A Derby spokesman said: "Admissions figures for full-time undergraduates in 2004 were lower than the outstanding entry in 2003, which was the highest ever intake for the university.
"Such students are an important but proportionally modest component of the total student body at the university. Strong recruitment in other areas, particularly part-time and e-learning, and the effect of cohort progression from the 2003 bumper intake means that student numbers in the university overall are little changed on 2003-04."
The largest fall was recorded at London Metropolitan University, which was created in August 2002 by the merger of London Guildhall University and the University of North London.
But the university questioned the data, and Ucas was still checking its figures as The Times Higher went to press.
Roderick Floud, president of London Met, said: "The figures quoted by Ucas are wrong, probably because of double counting of students who, in 2003-04, were accepted by both UNL and LGU.
"For universities such as us, it's enrolments that count. People come after clearing (who do not appear in these data). Enrolments of home Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded students are up by 4 per cent in 2004-05, as compared with 2003-04. There has also been an increase in overseas student numbers."
But he said: "Part-time recruitment hasn't been marvellous."
London Met aims to increase numbers by 20 per cent between 2001 and 2006, to help pay for initiatives such as a Canary Wharf business school. It wants to recruit 15 per cent more full-time students and 26 per cent more part-time students over five years.
Middlesex attributed the increase in student numbers to enhancing its reputation and scoring better in newspaper league tables. A spokeswoman added that the university's development strategy to consolidate on fewer campuses had been warmly welcomed by students.
A spokesman for Thames Valley said: "As always, the Ucas figures are only part of our business - but there has been a significant increase and it's even better than it looks, because nursing figures and those at Reading College are not included. However we look at it, it is very positive.
"There are a lot of applications for media courses. We are also fairly confident that our widening participation work is showing itself. Our links with local schools and colleges are better than ever."
Bradford University also staged a comeback, after students shunned the city following riots in 2001.
Elsewhere, the waxing and waning of student numbers reflects the way money for teaching is provided by Hefce. At Leicester University, the number of students accepted on full-time courses fell almost 15 per cent.
Academic registrar Kathy Williams said: "We are funded to take a certain number of students. We were considerably over that number and that meant we were getting more students than we were funded for. We have reduced the number of offers made to undergraduates, taken fewer students and have made considerable progress.
"It does seem rather unfair (that the university is penalised for attracting more students)."
Brunel University's strong performance this year followed a cutback in enrolments.
Institutions with fewer than 1,000 accepted applicants were excluded.