The number of home and EU students accepting places to study at university in 2013-14 rose by 37,350 students to 445,820 compared with 2012-13, according to statistics from Ucas, which analysed data four weeks after A-level results day.
Acceptances are 4 per cent below the record 465,070 home and EU students who took up places in 2011-12 when many axed their gap-year plans to avoid the higher fees introduced in autumn 2012.
However, they are 1 per cent higher than in 2010-11 when 440,410 home and EU students took up places.
Universities in England, where domestic and EU students pay fees of up to £9,000, enjoyed the biggest spike in student numbers after taking the brunt of losses in the first year of higher fees.
Almost 35,000 extra students were accepted on to courses in England this year – 375,120 in total – compared with last year, a 10 per cent rise, the report says.
Students from England - who, unlike those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will be charged fees of up £9,000 if they study in their home country - also accounted for much of the recovery in student numbers.
About 32,000 extra English students were accepted by English higher education institutions compared with last year – also an extra 10 per cent, the report says.
About a third of the extra students in the system this year are also those who took their exams last year, but deferred their place until this autumn.
Some 18,240 students will arrive this year via deferred acceptances compared with 8,350 who took up deferred places in 2012.