UK international applications stall as European collapse goes on


More applications from China than from whole of EU, early Ucas data show

Chris Havergal October 28, 2021

Early admissions data suggest that the rebound in international applications to UK universities may have stalled, as the collapse in interest from the European Union continues.

Figures for Ucas’ 15 October deadline – which covers courses at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, plus most medicine, dentistry and veterinary degrees – show that there were more applications from China than from all the EU countries combined.

Overall, the total number of applications increased by 1 per cent compared with the same point last year.

However, the number of overseas applicants, including from the EU, has fallen by 4 per cent. Applications from inside the EU sank by 16 per cent, with just 4,370 students from the bloc applying by mid-October.

The number of applications from outside the EU was essentially static year-on-year, following last year’s dramatic 20 per cent increase at this stage of the application cycle.

The figures come after admissions from the EU approximately halved in this autumn’s entry cohort, as students from the bloc lost the right to pay domestic-rate fees and access to student finance in the wake of Brexit.

However, sector leaders will take heart from a 5 per cent increase in applications from China – a key international market – at this year’s 15 October deadline. Some 4,570 applications from the country have been submitted, compared with 4,340 at the same point last year – which was itself a 31 per cent increase on the pandemic-hit year before.

The 15 October deadline typically represents approximately 10 per cent of the total number of applicants in a cycle. The application deadline for most other courses is 26 January.

Ucas said that the number of students from the most under-represented neighbourhoods submitting applications by this stage had increased by 8 per cent year-on-year.

The number of applicants for medicine courses hit 29,710, up 4 per cent year-on-year, amid warnings of a squeeze on government funding for places on these degree courses.

Significantly, there was a 28 per cent increase in reapplications for medicine courses, with 5,710 applications representing a second attempt, reflecting the hot competition for places in the last application round.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said: “It is heartening to see that this cohort of students – some of the hardest hit by the Covid pandemic who didn’t get to sit their GCSEs and National 5s, and have had almost two years of disruption to their studies – are being ambitious with their university and college applications. It is particularly pleasing to see a narrowing of the disadvantage gap with 8 per cent more students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds aiming high and applying to the most competitive courses.

“We know that increased demand and the continued rise in the number of 18-year-olds in the UK population will put a squeeze on available places, particularly those at the most competitive institutions and on the most competitive courses.

“This marks another year where examination arrangements will be different. Universities and colleges are used to dealing with a wide range of different qualifications from different educational settings, and while this year presents challenges, we are confident in their ability to continue delivering a fair and transparent process. Examinations are only one part of the picture, with admissions professionals looking at the full application to build the picture of their applicant, including potentially additional assessment methods such as interviews.”