People are turning away from full-time study but the growth in part-time provision may not fully compensate for the shift, according to figures released this week.
The number of applicants for full-time courses has fallen by 2 per cent in the two years since tuition fees were introduced and maintenance grants phased out. So far this year, 420,000 people have applied for a full-time place through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service - down 2,000 on last year and 8,000 on the year before.
In line with government plans for the expansion of higher education, however, more students have been accepted from this smaller pool of applicants.
Mature students have continued to turn away from full-time higher education, the Ucas figures reveal, with men in this category affected more than women.
The number of men aged over 25 who have accepted a full-time place is down 6.5 per cent on last year, with the number of women in the same age group falling by 1.1 per cent.
The number of men in the 21 to 24 age group who have accepted a full-time place is also down, but women in this age group more than compensate for the fall.
Ministers have previously pointed to the growth in the number of mature students choosing to study part time rather than full time. However, the number of course reservations at the Open University - the nation's biggest provider of part-time higher education - shows a small fall.
Some 335,900 people had contacted the Open University by the end of last week, down 10 per cent on last year. Course reservations were down by less than 1 per cent.
A spokeswoman for Birkbeck College, London, which caters exclusively for part-time students, said applications were down by 2 per cent on this time last year.
The Ucas figures also chart the rise and fall in fashion of certain subjects.
The number of people accepted to read cinematics is up 25.5 per cent, while media studies is up 15.3 per cent and drama is up 12.4 per cent.
Subject combinations are also popular. The number of people set to read mathematical science and informatics combinations is up 10.9 per cent; science with social science or business is up 10.1 per cent; business and administration combinations are up by 9.7 per cent; and physical or mathematical science with social science or business is up 8.1 per cent.
The expansion of the medical schools has begun, with the number of people accepted to study nursing up 17.4 per cent, pre-clinical medicine up 7.5 per cent and other medical subjects up 2.1 per cent.
Traditional science subjects remain out of favour. The number of students accepted to read chemistry, physics and biology is down 9.3, 7.3 and 6 per cent respectively.