Unexpected rise in UCAS applications

Figures released yesterday by UCAS have revealed that contrary to expectations the number of students applying for university courses beginning in 2013 has slightly increased, by 3.5% overall. Although applications from within the UK have increased by only 2.8% the total number of students is still lower than that in 2011. Overall, there has been an increase of 19,000 students compared to last year, with the total number of applications currently standing at 559,000.

The most significant increase came from students in Northern Ireland, where applications rose by 7.1%. The only decrease in applications came from students in Wales, with 2.1% - an all-time low since 2010.

However, on the whole, figures are positive, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to apply to university than a decade ago. In commenting on the new figures, the Chief Executive of UCAS Mary Curnock Cook said: "This is an encouraging report, with no double-dip for applications and continuing improvements for disadvantaged groups."

Even though the outlook on university applications is positive, the gender gap in Higher Education is widening, with 18-year old women more likely by a third to apply for higher education than men. This is most pronounced amongst "disadvantaged groups", with young women being 50% more likely to apply than their male counterparts.

Applications to some universities saw a remarkably sharp increase, with the University of Surrey reporting a rise in applications by 38% compared with last year - with STEM subjects, Economics, English, Law and Politics in particularly high demand. Alex Bols, the executive director of the 1994 Group of research intensive universities, said: "This is positive news and demonstrates that higher education is still an excellent investment."

Even more positive news came from international students, with UCAS reporting an increase of almost 10% from last year. Despite negative publicity surrounding certain universities and tighter immigration rules, the number of international students is at an all-time high, with 45,320 applications received so far. The number of applications from EU students also saw an increase of 4.9%.

Despite these positive trends, the overall applications figures have only risen by 2,000 since last year, when applications were historically low. In an increasingly overcrowded job market, a university degree is no longer regarded as a key investment, particularly with tuition fees of up to £9,000. The UCAS admissions service stated that "University applications are running at a higher level than last year, but have not recovered from the previous year."

Commenting just before the release of the new figures, the MEP for East England, Mr Andrew Duff, said to TCS: "I would support capping fees at a lower level, but prefer to scrap them entirely as soon as possible. Education is a public good and benefits society as a whole, so it should be funded from general taxation."

Even though universities are allowed to take an unlimited number of students who achieve ABB grades at A-level or their equivalents, the new figures suggest that, on the whole, admissions will still be lower since 2011.

Timur Cetin - Deputy News Editor

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