The number of 18-year-olds in the UK accepted into university has declined for the first time in five years. According to data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), 270,350 UK 18-year-olds were accepted onto university courses this year, down from 275,390 in 2022. This decrease is attributed to a drop in overall applications from UK 18-year-olds, declining from 323,290 in 2022 to 318,390 in 2023. It’s the first fall since 2018, but the number remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.
This decline in demand has impacted university admissions, with fewer students securing their first-choice university. However, more students qualified for their second-choice institution or accepted places through the clearing process.
The surge in university applications observed during the pandemic appears to have returned to normal growth levels, with Ucas characterizing it as a “return to normal growth following the surge of demand seen during the pandemic.” Factors contributing to increased university applications during the pandemic may include limited employment and apprenticeship opportunities, reduced travel options, and changes in grading due to teacher-assessed grades in 2020 and 2021.
The data also reveals a decline in the number of international students from outside the EU who were accepted, although it remains 25% higher than pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, the number of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds fell slightly but remains nearly 20% higher than in 2019.
These trends highlight the evolving landscape of university admissions and student behavior in the wake of the pandemic. As students weigh their options, including higher education, employment, and other opportunities, universities will need to adapt to changing demands and continue efforts to promote accessibility and social mobility. The clearing process remains open until October 17, offering opportunities for students and institutions alike to make adjustments based on shifting preferences and circumstances.