Nearly all universities in England have bounced back from the slump in student admissions after £9,000 tuition fees were introduced in 2012, figures show.
Only a handful of English universities now have a significantly lower intake of full-time UK and European Union undergraduates this year than they had two years ago, with only four institutions accepting at least 5 per cent fewer applicants in 2014 than in 2012, according to institution-level data published by Ucas.
The latest rise in student admissions, which takes the total up by almost 14,000 UK students (3.2 per cent) to 447,450, will be welcomed by universities, many of which saw their core intake shrink by 20 per cent or more two years ago.
Many of the fastest growing institutions in 2014-15 were post-92 universities, which were able to take advantage of an additional 30,000 student places made available ahead of next year’s abolition of student number controls.
These included Nottingham Trent University, which admitted an extra 850 UK and EU students last autumn, and the University of Central Lancashire, which took on an additional 805 students compared with 2013.
Of the 15 universities in England that expanded their intake by 400 places or more, 10 were modern universities, including Sheffield Hallam University (an extra 630 places), Coventry University (595) and the University of Wolverhampton (505).
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of universities, pointed out that the large rises in full-time acceptances at newer universities did not show the whole picture as part-time numbers had continued to fall.
“The government’s reforms have incentivised the recruitment of full-time rather than part-time students, but it is clear that modern universities continue to be highly attractive to students,” she said.
Several Russell Group universities also recruited strongly this year after domestic intake slumped in 2012.
The University of Liverpool recruited 525 more UK and EU students than it did the previous year and 900 more than in 2012. Its current intake of 4,415 exceeds its 2011 numbers by 250 places.
The University of Birmingham’s domestic and EU intake rose by 405 places this year and 745 places in 2013, which means its intake of 5,775 is 25 per cent higher than in 2012.
Other Russell Group members to register year-on-year growth include the University of Exeter, whose intake of 4,880 is 46 per cent higher than in 2012, and the University of Bristol, whose intake of 4,580 is 20 per cent higher than in 2012 and 38 per cent greater than in 2011.
Birkbeck, University of London, has the fastest growing full-time undergraduate intake since 2012, doubling its acceptances to 1,255 thanks to the success of its three-year degree, which allows students to study in the evening.
It is followed by the University of Surrey, whose domestic intake has grown by almost two-thirds since 2012 – 25 per cent ahead of its 2011 level.
Others to grow rapidly since 2012 include the University of Essex (up by 35 per cent) and Aston University (28 per cent).
The University of Bedfordshire’s intake has fallen sharpest in England since 2012, but most of the downturn occurred last year when it lost teaching and nursing places and rules changed over designation of students at partner colleges, it said.
In Wales, Swansea University had the highest increase in student numbers since 2012, rising by 55 per cent largely because it has attracted nearly 1,000 extra students from England.
In Scotland, where tuition is free for Scottish and EU students, but not English ones, student intake has varied from year to year largely because of restrictions from the Scottish Funding Council, several institutions said.
On vocation: the rise of BTEC qualifications
Several pre-92 universities have almost tripled the number of entrants holding BTEC qualifications over the past six years, statistics show.
With the number of students holding A levels staying broadly static between 2008 and 2014 (about 0,000 were accepted each year), it seems that universities of all types have turned to applicants with vocational qualifications to boost student numbers.
Aston University trebled the number of BTEC students accepted through the main Ucas admissions scheme, with 420 entrants this year compared with 140 in 2008. Not far behind is the University of Surrey, whose BTEC numbers rose almost threefold from 175 to 505 in this period, and the University of Kent, where the number increased from 5 to 790.
At each of these three universities, about a quarter of the UK students accepted through the main Ucas scheme – not including clearing – held BTECs.
At the University of Leeds, the number of students admitted with BTECs more than doubled from 205 to 545 between 2008 and 2014, as they did at the University of Birmingham, where numbers rose from 160 to 355.
Manchester Metropolitan University admitted the most BTEC students in 2014-15 – 2,885 – accounting for 39 per cent of its main intake, figures show.
About 85,000 BTEC holders were placed in large providers in 2014, up from 44,000 in 2008, Ucas said.
Mary Curnock Cook, the head of Ucas, has urged top universities to consider BTEC students but warned that they may lack some academic skills, such as essay writing and extended reading, required for degree study.
Largest percentage increases in acceptances of students holding BTECs from 2008 to 2014
|University||% change||% of main UK intake using BTECs|
|Notes: Figures relate to acceptances through Ucas main scheme. English universities only. |
Source: Ucas, analysis by THE.
|University of Surrey||188.6||21.1|
|University of Kent||187.3||25.1|
|University of Greenwich||171||35.7|
|Manchester Metropolitan University||170.9||38.8|