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UK universities experienced huge variations in undergraduate recruitment in 2018, with more than 20 seeing numbers fall by 10 per cent or more but others recording notable upturns, according to the latest data.
Some pre-92 universities were among those recording the biggest drops in acceptances from UK and European Union students year-on-year, the newly released Ucas figures for 2018 show.
A post-92 university, Bucks New University, had the largest fall in acceptances from 2017 to 2018 – about 40 per cent, something the institution said partly reflected how students studying with a partner institution – the University Campus of Football Business (UCFB) – were recorded as Bucks New entrants before this year.
But other large universities with falls of more than 10 per cent included post-92 institutions, such as the University of Roehampton (down 22 per cent), and pre-92 institutions, such as the University of Leicester (down 19 per cent).
Four Russell Group universities were also among a group that saw Ucas acceptances fall by 5 per cent or more, the biggest drop being at the University of Southampton (down 10 per cent).
At the other end of the scale, some universities that had previously seen Ucas acceptances drifting down year-on-year recorded big upturns for UK and EU recruitment in 2018: the University of Sunderland saw a 64 per cent increase, the University of East London was up 22 per cent and the University of Bolton rose 17 per cent.
According to Alan Palmer, head of policy and research at MillionPlus, the association for modern universities, the mixed picture showed that it was becoming increasingly difficult to track trends by broad university type.
Varying types of provision and students, changing demands for different subjects, the impact of degree apprenticeships and how applicants viewed the teaching excellence framework were among factors that could be affecting institutions in different ways, he said.
“There are so many factors now that I think it is not as simple as looking at positive or negative changes and saying, ‘That it is down to it being that type of university.’ I don’t think that is possible any more,” Mr Palmer said.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said the fact that the age of an institution seemed to be less of an indicator on recruitment might be seen by some in government as evidence that “this is the market operating” as it was intended.
But ups and downs in recruitment might also be due to some “quite vanilla” factors, such as “how successful [a university’s] advertising is” or whether an institution “had enough people on the phones on clearing day”, he said.
Meanwhile, an analysis of changes in the recruitment of 18-year-olds from 2017 to 2018 compared with the use of unconditional offers, which Ucas has published data on for the first time, suggested that there was no widespread link between universities that made the most use of such offers in 2018 and those increasing acceptances.
Some universities with very high use of unconditional offers, such as the University of Suffolk, where more than 80 per cent of offers were unconditional, did see a big uptick in recruitment but others, such as Roehampton, where almost 70 per cent of offers had an unconditional element, were among those with big falls in acceptances.