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This briefing paper will not longer be updated.

It focusses on UCAS data and policy changes in the period to 2015. For more up to date analysis of student numbers, including greater focus on part-time and mature students see the new paper: Higher education student numbers

The number of students applying to university through UCAS has increased for many years. The main exceptions were when tuition fees were introduced (1998), ‘variable’ fees meant they were increased (2006) and when the cap on fees was lifted to £9,000 in England in 2012.

There have been tighter restrictions on new places from 2009 and this contributed to a small fall in accepted home students in 2010. Applications have been strong through recent years in part due to the recession and its aftermath. This continued in 2011 when home applicants and acceptances reached new highs, boosted by an increase in the numbers reapplying those aiming to start their course before higher fees in 2012.

In 2012 the number of applicants fell by around 47,000 (6.6%) and the number of acceptances by around 27,000 (5.5%). There were larger

percentage falls among students who will be liable for higher fees; and the largest drop among older applicants (who could avoid higher fees by starting earlier) and students from the EU (who could avoid higher fees by studying elsewhere). The numbers of applicants and acceptances in 2012 were also lower than in 2010, but well above 2009 levels. Applications up to the end of June 2013 were 3.1% higher than in 2012. Acceptances to mid-September were 9% up.

There was a large drop in deferred entry in the 2011 application cycle –students who were accepted but took a year out to start in 2012- thought

to be due to the prospect of much higher fees if they did so. The number deferring fell by 16,000 or more than half. The pattern of deferred entry returned to typical levels in 2012 so when data are presented by year of entry, rather than year of application, the fall in deferred entrants is added to the underlying fall in acceptances made in 2012. The total fall on this basis among home and EU students was 53,200.

This note sets out trends in the number of applicants and entrants to higher education institutions since the mid 1990s. The main focus is on total numbers but there is some analysis by age, sex, ethnicity, subject and domicile. The period covered includes important changes to student finance, notably the introduction of tuition fees in the UK in 1998 and ‘top-up’ or variable tuition fees in England and Northern Ireland in 2006 and Wales in 2007. It also includes a brief look at the impacts of the recession and public sector spending cuts on places from 2009.


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