Figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service today show that the number of people applying for places is up 5 per cent on last year.
But the rush to beat the introduction of the £9,000 tuition-fee cap in 2012 has not been as great as some predicted.
The growth in applications to UK universities was bigger in 2010, when the number of applicants soared by 20 per cent.
A total of 583,501 students have applied to university – 28,062 more than had applied by the 15 January deadline in 2010.
Other European Union countries and nations outside the EU provided the largest increases in applications (up 17 per cent and 8 per cent respectively), compared with the UK’s 4 per cent rise.
In England, the number of applicants rose by 4 per cent, in Northern Ireland 7 per cent, in Scotland 6 per cent and in Wales 5 per cent. The number of applicants aged 20-24 is up 12 per cent on last year.
Million+, which represents a group of new universities, called for the government to provide more places.
Les Ebdon, chair of Million+, said: “Just a few days ago, it was confirmed that 210,222 would-be students missed out on a university place in 2010. These latest figures on applications show that even more students are hoping to get to university in 2011, but they will be fighting over exactly the same number of places.
“Ministers may be right to say that getting to university should not be easy, but they are wrong to allow nearly one in three students to miss out.”
However, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said that applying to university had always been a competitive process.
“In a year of unprecedented demand from applicants, we kept our commitment to fund an extra 10,000 student places, allowing more students than ever before to go to an English university in 2010. A strong demand for places was expected this year so universities will be able to recruit the same number of new students in 2011,” he said.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said it was encouraging to see an 18 per cent increase in science applicants and a 12 per cent rise in applications to the creative arts.
“As always, competition for places is likely to be strong. However, speculation and panic benefit no one; there is still a good chance of securing a place at university. It is essential that applicants receive high-quality, targeted information, advice and guidance following the outcome of their applications,” she said.
Applicants should also be sure to apply early for student support, she added.