19 Dec 2014

University students top 500,000 for first time

The number of students going to university reaches record levels, although there are still big gaps between men and women alongside regional disparity.

Heated competition is causing universities to make record numbers of offers to prospective candidates, according to admissions service Ucas.

The number of students winning places to study degrees at UK universities and colleges has grown to 512,400 – up by nearly 17,000 students or 3.4 per cent.

There was also an increase in the number of UK students accepted for courses, rising 3.2 per cent to 447,500 in 2014 compared to last year.

Mary Curnock Cook, the head of Ucas, said almost all young applicants get at least one offer from a university.

In some subjects, two thirds of students receive the maximum five offers.

‘Intense competition’

Ms Curnock Cook said this now meant university was a “buyers’ market” for prospective students who have much greater choice in studying at university – meaning they could target more ambitious courses, and also apply for one or two courses with tough entry criteria.

Universities and colleges made a record 1.8 million offers in 2014, up 6 per cent on 2013.

The number of applicants receiving five offers has reached a record high, reaching 137,300 from UK and EU applicants.

About 12,000 unconditional offers were made to 18-year-olds this year, comprising about 1.4 per cent of the total number of offers made to the age group, compared to about 0.4 per cent in 2013.

Universities and colleges are now “acutely conscious that their offers are increasingly having to compete against four others”, Ms Curnock Cook said.

But there is a disparity in the likelihood of women going to university compared to men, with women more likely in 98 per cent of constituencies.

Gender gap

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of universities, said it was “encouraging to see another increase in the numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds being admitted to the universities which demand higher grades”.

But she said there was “still more progress to be made”.

“We now need many more students from non-traditional backgrounds to get good grades in the right subjects and apply to our universities,” she added.

Ms Curnock Cook said this year’s applications showed a “stunning account of social change”, with the poorest young people now over 10 per cent more likely to go to university than they were in 2013 and a third more likely than five years ago.

“These trends are pushing the difference in entry rates between rich and poor to historic lows,” she said.

But she said poorer young people are more likely to go to less selective universities, highlighting the “disquieting” gap between men and women going to university, which has continued to worsen since the 1990s.

Women aged 18 are a third more likely to start a degree course than men, found Ucas, and are 26 per cent more likely to go to a “higher tariff” – or more selective – university.