UK universities scramble to fill places as number of applicants taking courses falls

Falling application rates and rising student dissatisfaction levels have resulted in a 'buyer's market' for degree places this year

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Thursday 17 August 2017 10:57
Students will receive their A-level results in August
Students will receive their A-level results in August

The number of students accepted onto UK degree courses has fallen, leaving tens of thousands of places still available on A-level results day.

At the time the results were first published, some 416,310 had taken up places, down 2 per cent on the same point last year, Ucas figures show.

Despite the drop, the number of students accepted onto degree courses on A-level day is still the second highest number recorded, the university admissions service said, adding that the reduction is driven by a fall in acceptances from older students and fewer students from the European Union.

Industry experts have said these factors, along with a fall in applications overall, have made for a “buyer’s market”, putting students in a more powerful position than ever before.

Around 201,00 UK 18-year-olds gained a place at university on results day this year, a similar level to last year, and the highest number recorded on A-level results day.

A total of 26,090 EU students have been placed, a fall of 3 per cent compared to 2016, but still the second highest recorded.

The number of international students accepted has increased by 4 per cent to 30,350.

As of Wednesday morning, the day before clearing opened, there were more than 27,000 courses listed on the Ucas clearing website, including several postings from top Russell Group universities.

Around nine in 10 institutions have advertised at least one course. Last year, almost 65,000 applicants found places through clearing.

The rising cost of tuition fees and increasing student dissatisfaction levels are said to be contributing factors to the decline in students who have already applied to go on to higher education.

Despite growing concerns over a generation of students set to be saddled with an average of at least £50,000 of debt, the Government has stood by its plans to increase interest rates for student loan repayments – which will rise to 6.1 per cent in the Autumn.

Analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicts that three quarters of undergraduates will never fully pay off their student debts.

Universities minister, Jo Johnson, said university still delivered “extraordinary returns” for students and the system was meeting the Government's core objectives.

Speaking with the minister on Radio 4’s Today programme, Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of Universities UK, said university was “still an excellent investment”.

He added: “Numbers from disadvantaged backgrounds are also up at university at the moment.

“I think the removal of the student numbers cap and the finance system has allowed record participation in universities, so I absolutely don't agree that the system is broken in any way.”

​Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said: “The overall numbers of students being accepted onto courses is lower, but it is a complicated picture.

”We are seeing a growing proportion of 18-year-olds going into higher education, and greater numbers of students from our most deprived communities are securing places.

“At the same time, we are seeing fewer older students taking places, and a fall in numbers from the EU.

”Higher education is still a hugely popular life choice, which has a transformational impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year.“

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