A record number of students are set to start university and college in the UK this Autumn, the admissions service UCAS has said.
This comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that restrictions on face-to-face teaching in English universities are to end this month.
As of 30 June – the final deadline to apply to up to five courses simultaneously – a total of 2,955,990 applications had been made through UCAS.
This equates to a 6% rise on 2020, when there were 2,789,160 applications.
A total of 1,998,690 offers have been made by HE institutions so far, a rise of 3% on last year at this point of the admissions cycle.
UCAS said 311,000 UK 18-year-olds had applied for higher education places by its deadline at the end of June, 10% more than the previous record of 281,000 last year. More than 50% of school leavers in Northern Ireland have applied for university places, and 44% in England.
The total number of applicants through UCAS – including mature and international students – also hit a new high of 682,000, with a record 400,000 women applying.
There has also been a surge in applications to nursing courses: nearly 66,000 people have applied – a 19% increase on 2020. Applications for medicine and dentistry have also risen by 23% on last year.
Universities have responded to the extra demand by increasing their offers of places, including a 20% rise since 2019 in offers to students living in disadvantaged areas. It also reported record applications for degree apprenticeships.
Both applications and offers are up in all four nations of the UK.
Universities are ready to welcome more students onto courses this Autumn, and have worked hard to be flexible, enabling students to progress to their next level of study.
Clare Marchant, the chief executive of UCAS, said: “Today’s numbers show the clear demand for undergraduate study and apprenticeships is growing, rising significantly during the pandemic. Universities are ready to welcome more students onto courses this Autumn, and have worked hard to be flexible, enabling students to progress to their next level of study.
“Publishing new insight throughout the cycle increases transparency in admissions, and students, parents, teachers, and universities can have confidence the process is once again as fair as possible, with results day on the horizon.
“Though not every student will find themselves in the position they had initially hoped for, they still have a wide range of options, including undergraduate courses and apprenticeships. Clearing and our apprenticeship service is now open, and UCAS is supporting students throughout the summer online, including on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram.
“There is a full range of post-secondary options and pathways available, not just applying for an undergraduate degree. All the help and advice they need from UCAS online will give them an excellent start to their career.”
Hollie Chandler, the head of higher education policy for the Russell Group, said: “The increase in offers by higher tariff providers to UK 18-year-olds, including those from the most deprived areas, reflects our universities’ commitment to be as fair and flexible as possible to ensure students are not disadvantaged in their applications by the changes in the awarding of A-levels this year.”
Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said the record numbers of places being offered were not being matched by higher levels of staff employment, pointing to redundancies and course cuts at universities across England.
“Ultimately, cuts impact on students as staff become increasingly stressed and burned out, so it’s important that universities match increased student numbers with increased investment in their staff.”