A record 40.5% of all 18-year-olds in the UK have applied to go to university, with numbers rising significantly during lockdown, according to the university admissions service Ucas.
It is the first time that more than four out of 10 students (40.5%) had applied by 30 June to go to university and the figures will offer some comfort to universities bracing themselves for the Covid-19 aftershock.
At the same point in the admissions cycle last year, the figure was 38.9%, and Ucas points out that between mid-March and the end of June, when the pandemic was at its height in the UK, applications rose by 17%.
Applications for nursing are up 15% year on year, and Ucas says that for the first time more than a quarter (25.4%) of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds had applied to university or college by 30 June, the final deadline to apply for up to five courses simultaneously.
While the sector will be relieved that domestic applications appear buoyant at this stage, what is as yet unknown is how many students will change their minds and choose not to go to university in September, put off by the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on the student experience.
Earlier this week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that the after-effects of the coronavirus outbreak could spell financial disaster for as many as 13 British universities, with the exact size of losses dependent on how many students decide not to enrol.
According to Ucas, by 30 June just over 514,000 people of all ages across the UK had applied for a place on an undergraduate course, up 1.6% on figures at the same point last year. The number of applicants from outside the EU was up 10%, at just over 89,000, while the EU was 2% down on last year, at just over 49,500. Those figures could however change significantly by the start of the new academic year as students reflect on their choices.
Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said: “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.”