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Rise in UK University applications, the international student is strong

by Nikki Dale -

  • A record number of applications were received by UK Universities during lockdown
  • More than 4 in 10 UK 18-year olds had applied by June 30th
  • 514,000 people had applied – all ages across the UK – for an undergraduate course
  • The UK applications are up 1.6% on 2019
  • UK applicants aged between 30 – 34 had increased for the first time in five years

The Higher Education sector has been bracing itself for the COVID-19 aftermath, following the premature end of the academic year 2019/2020.  The worldwide lockdown saw students abruptly end their face-to-face learning, vacate their student accommodation on mass, and travel back to their original domiciles.

There was then the unprecedented question of how universities and colleges would quickly pivot to deliver teaching for the interim, but also plan for the long-term, with the unknown knowledge of whether they would open their doors Autumn 2020 or January 2021.

UK Student Applications pre-lockdown

By the 15 January deadline, 568,330 people applied to start an undergraduate course at a UK university or college this year – an increase of 1.2% from the same point in 2019.

A record 39.5% of all UK 18-year olds had applied, up from 38.2% last year. This means 275,300 young people applied, increasing from 270,685 a year ago, despite 2020 projected to be the final year of a UK-wide decline in the overall number of 18-year olds in the total population.

University fears fade as new numbers hit record applications during lockdown

Early July, after some pivotal deadlines have passed, we can start to see a more accurate picture – and as predicted by many experts a far brighter picture – for the academic year of 2020/21 as numbers rose during lockdown UCAS confirms.


Between mid-March and end-June – the
height of the pandemic in the UK – applications rose by 17%


Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: ‘At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

UK student applications for university 2020/21

By June 30th, 281,980 students had applied for a course(s) at university, compared to 275,250 at the same time in 2019, and this is despite their being 1.5% fewer 18-year olds in the population than last year.


40.5% of all UK 18-year olds have
applied to go to university


June 30th is significant as it’s the deadline a student can apply for five courses simultaneously.  UCAS reported it was the first time more than a quarter (25.4%) of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds had applied to university or college.

International & EU Student applications for university 2020/21

Outside the EU international student applicants were up by 14.7%.  EU was down slightly compared to the same time last year, at just 49,500.

‘The global appeal of studying at our world-class universities and colleges is once again proved by record application numbers from international students.’ Clare Marchant commented.

There were a record 73,080 applicants from outside the EU, a 14.7% increase, driven by a 33.8% increase in applicants from China, and a 32.9% increase from India. There has been a 2% decrease in total applicants from the EU – 860 fewer overall.

READ ARTICLE: Government support on International student visa flexibility

The overall number of Student applications for university 2020/21

Overall the number of applications, of all ages and all domiciles, stood at 652,790 and is the highest figure in four years.

  • Student applications between 23rd March and 30th June increased by 17% in 2020, compared to 2019. 54,810 and 46,770 respectively.
  • Student applications between 15th January and 30th June increased by 10% in 2020, compared to 2019. 84,600 and 76,740 respectively.
  • Student nursing applications between January and June increased by 63% in 2020, compared to 2019. 12,840 and 7,880 respectively.
Application numbers for nursing reached
58,550 – up 15% year-on-year.


Clare Marchant, added: ‘Universities and colleges are setting out their ambitions to welcome students to their campuses this autumn, with many planning to blend high quality online learning with face-to-face teaching and support. Confidence is building for an autumn term that safely captures the essence of the academic year’s traditional start as much as possible.

‘We should celebrate seeing so many people keen to embark on a rewarding career in nursing. Inspirational stories throughout this pandemic have clearly sparked imaginations, with people from all walks of life applying, determined to help others at a time when our universities are making huge contributions to fighting coronavirus.

‘Students will continue to need support over the summer to successfully transition onto their courses, including the record number of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our popular weekly live Q&A sessions will cover a variety of topics, with experts on hand to help guide students, complementing the information and advice available from UCAS online, through social media, and over the phone.’

UCAS headline offer-acceptance statistics for Autumn 2020

Analysis published by UCAS two weeks ago also showed that more applicants have accepted an offer to start a course this autumn, with fewer students currently planning to defer than in 2019.

READ ARTICLE:UCAS headline offer-acceptance stats 

Clare Marchant, said: ‘Students have made their decisions and are ready to take up the life-changing opportunities that higher education can bring.

‘Today’s numbers will also be welcome news for universities and colleges, and show their announcements on the blend of online and face-to-face learning most are planning to deliver have been building confidence ahead of the start of term.

‘We published the headline offer-acceptance statistics for the first time, to provide the clearest possible picture of students’ behaviour at this moment in the application cycle.’

What does this “blended approach” of teaching mean for Students?

There are 137 universities in the UK, and 89 out of 92 of them which replied to a Universities UK survey will provide some in-person teaching next term.

This will be part of a so-called “blended approach” to teaching and learning, with many universities announcing that lectures will be given online.

  • Cambridge’s lectures will be held online for the entire year
  • Manchester, Reading and Queen’s Belfast will have online lectures for the autumn term.
  • Keele is using a five-stage alert system, like the government’s coronavirus scheme, to decide its policy
  • Aberdeen is delaying the start of next term by two weeks
  • Durham has reversed a decision to move teaching wholly online

Each university will have individual ways and different processes to deliver the start of the new academic year, but what we are seeing in the Higher Education sector is resilience and pro-activeness to ensure it’s as easy as possible for its students to obtain or continue their studies in the UK.

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