Student deferrals dip in UK despite coronavirus fears

Ucas data suggest expected spike in delayed starts yet to materialise

June 25, 2020
Source: iStock

The number of students choosing to defer their entry to university in the UK has dipped, despite fears of a coronavirus-fuelled surge in delayed enrolments, according to Ucas data.

Figures released by the admissions service on 25 June showed that the number of students opting to defer the start of their degree had fallen by 0.7 per cent year-on-year, while the number confirming a place for an immediate start this autumn was up by 1.2 per cent.

Most undergraduate applicants will have chosen which of their university offers to accept by now, because the deadline for most institutions was 18 June.

Some 500,340 applicants have confirmed their intention to start courses in September, compared with 20,690 who are deferring. The respective figures at the same point in the admissions cycle last year were 494,530 and 20,840.

A similar picture emerges when data for UK-domiciled 18-year-olds only is considered: the number of these applicants confirming a September start is up by 2.6 per cent, with the number deferring falling by 4.1 per cent – from 14,230 to 13,640.

However, applicants from outside the European Union did appear to be more likely to defer, with the cohort of international deferrers increasing from 940 to 1,140 (21.3 per cent).

Applicants from the neighbourhoods most under-represented in higher education were the only socio-economic group to report an increase in deferrals – of 5.5 per cent. However, Ucas highlighted that this was a change of only 60 students.

Applicants holding a conditional offer usually have their place confirmed after their qualification results in August, and applicants can request to defer at any point in the application cycle.

The data will come as a relief to institutions which had feared that uncertainty over whether campuses would be open and how much teaching would be online would lead to an increase in deferrals for the coming academic year, which would hit sector finances badly.

Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said the numbers “show [that universities’] announcements on the blend of online and face-to-face learning that most are planning to deliver have been building confidence ahead of the start of term”.

Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said it was “very positive to see that the number of students planning to start university this autumn is on the rise, especially those from the most disadvantaged areas, and that the number choosing to defer has fallen from this time last year.

“University remains an excellent choice for students. Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19, students can expect a high-quality experience this autumn, with most universities planning to deliver teaching, student support and social activities in-person.”

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