Mature students are expected to comprise two-thirds of the intake at one of the UK's new medical schools, with the oldest of them aged 46.
Sam Leinster, dean of the University of East Anglia's new medical school at Norwich, said: "We were surprised at the number of mature applicants. Unlike most medical schools, we have no age bar. We believe that as people work longer there is a place for those who wish to pursue medicine later in life and we have found a huge pool of very good applicants."
The school made offers to five people over 40, four of whom were women. It made 20 offers to people in their 30s. Of the 91 offers made to school leavers, just 24 were to men. "Nationally there is a problem recruiting young male students to medicine," Professor Leinster said.
Michael Powell, executive secretary of the council of heads of medical schools, described UEA's decision to admit the 46-year-old student as "quite surprising". "Medical schools do not set strict age limits, but all being equal, preference would normally be given to a younger candidate. There is an issue about how long an older student can practise, particularly given the ten-year period of postgraduate training," he said.
The retirement age for doctors is 65, although doctors can negotiate to work longer.
Much of the expansion in medical schools' places is for graduate entry, with shorter courses and greater financial support for students. But the course at the UEA is for the full five years.
At the new Peninsula Medical School, direct school leavers make up 58 per cent of this year's intake. Of the remaining 42 per cent, more than half are specifically graduate entry. A spokesperson said: "We do not set an age limit, but we do tell applicants that they need to bear in mind the length of the training period."