Record numbers of poorer students are set to go to university, according to the latest data from admissions service Ucas.
Figures from June 30, which was the final date for applications, show the application rate for 18-year-old students from the poorest areas of the UK was 28.8%, up from 27% in 2021 and more than 10 percentage points higher than in 2013.
This means 38,300 students from the most disadvantaged areas of the country have applied to university this year, Ucas said.
In Scotland alone, there was a record proportion of poorer students applying, with 21.3% of applications coming from disadvantaged students.
The application gap between the poorest and richest 18-year-olds has also narrowed, with the UK-wide application rate for the richest students remaining the same as in 2021 at 59.5%.
Ucas data shows the overall application rate for UK 18-year-olds, at 44.1%, is also a record high and likely to lead to high numbers of students starting university in the autumn.
By June 30, more than 683,650 applicants had made more than 3 million applications.
Almost 135,000 international students have also applied, an increase of 3% on 2021. The number of Chinese applicants rose by 10% to 31,400, while applications from India increased 20%. Applications from Nigeria rose 58%.
Ucas found interest in degree apprenticeships is growing, with a record 2.15 million unique searches on its CareerFinder service about this route, up by 4.13% from 2021.
The searches have resulted in 243,138 apply clicks, an increase of more than 6% from the previous year.
Ucas data also shows that 490 people have become the first T-level students to apply to university this year. The qualification, which was introduced in 2020, is a two-year course broadly equivalent to three A-levels, involving practical experience such as an industry placement of 45 days.
Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said: “It’s really encouraging to see students from disadvantaged backgrounds apply in record numbers, despite the disruption the pandemic has caused to young people’s education.
We hope that the high number of applications get turned into actual offers and acceptances
Kevin Gilmartin, Association of School and College Leaders
“Ucas’ analysis shows that universities and colleges are continuing to support the progression of these students with targeted offer-making that we predict will see record numbers of disadvantaged students start university and college in the autumn.”
She said there will be a “huge effort” over the next few weeks across the education sector to support more than 700,000 students transitioning to the next stage of education, adding she believes record numbers of students will get their firm choice on results day.
“Nearly 30,000 courses are now available in clearing across many courses and institutions,” she said.
“There will be plenty of choice available to students who are unplaced or use clearing as an opportunity to rethink their plans.
“In parallel, we will be supporting students to secure apprenticeships and will proactively ensure all the options available are presented to students during clearing.”
Kevin Gilmartin, post-16 specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are very pleased that there are record numbers of university applications this year from disadvantaged students.
“It is a reflection of how much support has been given to them by school and college leaders, teachers and support staff.
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“We hope that the high number of applications get turned into actual offers and acceptances, and that the gap between the most disadvantaged students receiving places at the most competitive universities, compared with their more advantaged peers, starts to reduce.”
He said the ASCL would be watching the number of T-level students going to university “with real interest”, as if T-level students went into higher education in large numbers, rather than going on to further technical training, the defunding of BTECs did not make sense.
The data also showed a fall in the number of nursing applications, with an 8% drop across the UK from the previous year.
Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said this is “further evidence” things are “heading in the wrong direction” during a workforce crisis compromising patient care.
She added: “With the biggest drop in mature student applications, financial pressures are at play and the prospect of taking on more debt when inflation is soaring is a bridge too far.
“Stronger interest from 18-year-olds is a testament to nursing staff inspiring the next generation, but the profession is hugely diverse and relies on attracting people of all ages and all walks of life, often as a second career.”
“Ministers everywhere need to prioritise attracting the next generation to address vacancies, starting with fair pay.
“In England, removing one of the main pathways by scrapping BTECs in health and social care risks compounding falling application numbers. Ministers also have the power to strengthen the future of nursing by funding tuition fees and providing higher maintenance grants.”
Andrea Jenkyns, minister for skills, further education and higher education, said: “It is fantastic to see a record number of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas applying for university. This is real levelling up in action and a catalyst for genuine social mobility.”