Image: Wikimedia Commons/ David Stowell

Students’ university choices increasingly favour local options

More university applicants are applying to local universities than previous years, signalling a shift towards studying closer to home amid the turmoil of the government response to Covid-19 and concerns over effects of Covid-19 continuing into the next academic year.

23% of students currently planning to go to university in the next 2021/22 academic year indicated that they wish to study local in a Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) survey of over 20,000 pupils.

Staying local and being closer to home has been a minor but long-term trend in university choices which is accelerating. 

With reports and scenes of students struggling with a lack of support in halls, Sarah Barr Miller, UCAS head of insight, said prospective students in UCAS focus groups have indicated that they wish to stay local and not “be far from their support networks”.

Localism in university choices is not new with many smaller lower-ranking universities like the University of Greenwich, formerly Thames Polytechnic, relying on local students to stay financially afloat. 

A University of Greenwich admissions tutor Ray Powell said: “Increasingly, because of accommodation costs and all the rest of it, a good, local university is an attractive option.” 

Increasingly, because of accommodation costs and all the rest of it, a good, local university is an attractive option

– Ray Powell, University of Greenwich admissions tutor

“We’ve seen a further increase in students wanting to go to good quality local universities,” said Catherine Richards, the principal of East Norfolk Sixth Form College near Great Yarmouth, an area with a high proportion of the most deprived postcodes in the UK.

According to a survey of year 12 and 13 pupils by the charity Access HE, students’ financial situation within the Covid-19 pandemic and government response has affected university choices. 

The survey indicated that 42% of pupils on free school meals were planning to study at a local university, compared to 30% of their more well-off peers. 

The acceleration of this trend this year has led Dr Graeme Atherton, head of Access HE, to issue a warning that focusing only on local universities could lead to pupils’ choices being limited. 

Depending on where students live and their local choices, his fear is that focusing only on local choices may mean students do not go to a university best suited to their abilities.


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