Nursing and teaching hardest hit as UK applications drop

Total number of applications to study for a degree in UK down by 2.3 per cent at January deadline

February 9, 2023
Empty hospital corridor
Source: iStock

Fewer people applied to UK universities by the main January deadline than the record numbers of recent years, figures reveal, with nursing and teaching courses seeing the biggest falls in demand.

The latest data show that 596,590 people applied for places through the admissions service Ucas by the equal consideration deadline of 25 January – down 2.3 per cent on the year before and below the peak of 616,360 in 2021.

The number of applicants was still above the number recorded in 2020 – the last year before the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were felt across higher education.

These figures mirror previous Ucas statistics that revealed a “worrying” drop in the number of early applications to the country’s most selective university courses.

Last year’s application round saw a drop in the number of students being accepted onto their first-choice university course because of a decision by the regulator Ofqual to deflate grades back towards 2019 levels.

Within the newest data lies a complicated picture of rising and falling demand.

Total nursing applications fell by almost a fifth year-on-year – the largest of all subject groups – followed by teaching (15.6 per cent down) and subjects allied to medicine (8.6 per cent).

Ucas said there was increased interest in courses perceived to have “good career prospects”, amid fears from students over the cost-of-living crisis – with 9.6 per cent more people applying to computing courses.

The number of UK 18-year-olds applying to undergraduate courses dropped slightly but is the second highest on record.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said this was “testament to the continuing attraction of undergraduate study” and the organisation expects an upward trajectory for the rest of the decade, based on “a rising 18-year-old population and the continued global attraction of UK higher education”.

A fall in application rates means 41.5 per cent of 18-year-olds in the UK applied – although this ranged massively across the four nations, including 42.3 per cent in England and 33.7 per cent in Wales.

The gap between the highest rate in Northern Ireland (50.9 per cent) and the lowest rate in Scotland (33.5 per cent) has never been bigger.

Elsewhere in the UK, the number of applicants over the age of 18 fell to its lowest level since 2009.

But the number of 19-year-olds applying rose, and there was a 3.9 per cent increase in reapplications, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of winning a place last year.

A record 94,410 applications from all ages came from outside the European Union – a figure that has doubled in just 10 years – while the number from EU applicants (20,500) has halved in just three years.

“This is another complex cycle with a myriad global and national factors impacting demand, all within the context of an increasing demographic and high employment rates,” said Ms Marchant.

“Demand for undergraduate courses during Covid-19 was unprecedented and so a slight recalibration in the number of applicants might be expected, particularly for courses related to nursing and healthcare which saw exceptional growth as students were inspired by the pandemic to pursue these professions.”

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