Welcome to the sector statistical event of the year – the release of the end of cycle UCAS data at the institutional level. Thursday was only the third time UCAS have released annual end of cycle data in this form. There’s a separate (pdf) report for each institution, but as always – from a policy perspective – the interest lies in the comparisons we can make, and the comparisons that you can make via our interactive Tableau visualisations.
We’ve analysed the figures on more than 1.3 million applications by 180,000 UK residents for the winners, the losers, and the most important trends over the last year in higher education recruitment. Our analysis here breaks down the data by TEF award, mission group, and by UK region. In December we looked at the main national trends from the sector-wide End of Cycle report, you can read that here.
Acceptances – winners and losers
We’re excluding the University of Wales Trinity St David from the visualisation here – as a small institution with a unique profile and history, it has seen growth to the extent it skews our graphs! But this is, of course, due to data the two campuses being combined in 2017. Otherwise, the top five institutions for growth in acceptances between 2016-17 were:
- The University of Stirling (+29.79%)
- Abertay University (+24.27%)
- Brunel University London (+18.96%)
- Leeds Arts University (+13.64%)
- The University of Reading (+13.49%)
Acceptances at each of the five increased by over 13% in the academic year ending 2017 compared with 2016. Two Scottish institutions at the top (and one at the bottom) demonstrates that even in a system where student numbers are capped we can see significant changes in fortunes.
The five institutions with the largest drop in acceptances in the last year (between 2016-2017) are:
- The University of Aberdeen (-24.96%)
- The School of Oriental and African Studies (-23.31%)
- London Metropolitan University (-21.72%)
- Leeds Trinity University (-21.08%)
- St Mary’s University, Twickenham (-18.56%)
In each case, acceptances fell by more than 18% in 2017 compared to 2016. Interestingly, despite an increase in applications of 8.3%, SOAS saw 23.3% fewer applicants accepted in 2017.
For those interested in longer-term trends we’ve developed an alternative visualisation showing both the number of acceptances (size) and year on year change (colour) for each institution. This visualisation is ranked by the average number of institutional acceptances across all cycles – so larger institutions appear at the top.
What about TEF?
The TEF year two results have not had a significant impact on acceptances, as one might expect. The release of TEF results came too late to influence the main cycle, so any change would be seen in clearing only. Of the institutions that received a Bronze award in TEF year 2, roughly the same number saw an increase in acceptances in the last year as saw a decrease. However, applications to most Bronze institutions dropped from 2016 to 2017. Counter-intuitively, there has been a similar trend among Gold institutions: at two-thirds of institutions that received a Gold award, applications fell. Of the 26 institutions that received Gold, 15 accepted fewer students, and one saw no change. For those ten institutions that accepted more students, the rise was less than 2.4%.
Applications and offers
The calculations underpinning visualisations in this section have been refined since the first version of this article was published
Increasingly, recruitment is a marketing-led process, with institutions using a variety of media to encourage students to enter that all-important alphanumeric code on their UCAS form. We’ve also plotted how application numbers have changed since 2012, but our winners and losers in terms of growth from last year are Trinity St Davids (an incredible outlier that we have muted from the default view), Sussex, Birmingham, York St John and Leeds.
The number of offers an institution decides to make is an indicator as to whether it is following a strategy of growth or selectivity – more students or more academically able ones, being blunt. In these terms, offers can be read as a proxy for institutional strategic input into the cycle. This data makes more sense considered over multiple years – so our diagram uses size to indicate the absolute number of offers per institution each year, and colour to represent the year on year change. This visualisation is ranked by the average number of institutional offers across all cycles.
What we have learned
These are some of our key headline findings for these analyses. As we dig further into the data – for example, we’ve not started on the ethnicity and social background figures – we’ll be publishing more visualisations and more analyses.
Steady performance from the Russell Group
Russell Group universities performed well, on the whole: most saw an increase in both applications and acceptances, and for some, those increases were significant. University College London accepted almost 10% more in the 2016-17 cycle than the year previous. On the other end of the spectrum, the University of Southampton accepted roughly 10% fewer, after a 7% decline in applications on last year.
By comparison, most Million Plus institutions saw a fall in both applications and acceptances this year with only a small handful of exceptions.
Varied fortunes for specialist institutions
Given that the data release covers only the 132 largest institutions, small and specialist institutions are not well-represented. Of the seven included in the data, applications declined for almost all: only Leeds Arts University and Plymouth College of Art noted minor increases of less than 2%. There is a lot more variation when we look at acceptances: the two institutions mentioned, along with the Arts University Bournemouth all grew in size, and by a notable proportion at that (between 5 to 13.6%), while the rest shrank by between 0.6% up to 18.6%.
In the regions
Institutions in a number of regions saw a general trend of declining applications – this trend was particularly pronounced in the East and the North of England, with the former seeing not only high numbers of universities reporting a decline in applications but high percentages of decline at that. Applications fell to all seven Welsh institutions included apart from the University of Wales Trinity St David, and acceptances fell at three of these institutions.
The London effect?
The odds of getting into a London institution were higher this year as a huge drop in applications was offset to some extent by higher rates of acceptance. Nonetheless, 15 of the 24 London institutions included in the data accepted fewer applicants this year, with some dramatic reductions: the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) shrunk by almost a quarter on its size last year (-23.3%).
Size is everything – placed students
At the end of it all, the most important figure is the number of students that turn up at the start of term. Institutions are increasingly using non-mainstream admissions pathways (including clearing, adjustment and UCAS extra) to supplement their intake and meet growth forecasts. There is a theory too that students are increasingly leaving it till later in the cycle to start deciding on institutional destinations – almost PQA by default…
The top five institutions with the biggest percentage growth in placed students (again excepting Trinity St Davids as an outlier) are:
- Leeds Arts
But the five who are shrinking fastest were:
- Leeds Trinity
- London Metropolitan
- St Mary’s Twickenham
This primarily shows strategic input – every institution had more applications than students placed, so there was some degree of selectivity – but it also demonstrates student decision making. There are small but tangible differences between acceptances and placed students in all cases – not everyone who accepts a place will take it, for all kinds of reasons.
Outside of the mainstream
Clearing (and, to a lesser extent, adjustment) will be the main reason for a difference between June placed students and all placed students. The size of this post-results marketplace is growing rapidly year on year. But it is not correct to see this as an approximation of clearing performance – students placed via UCAS extra, and those placed outside of the UCAS system, will show up here too.
If we look at this in another way we can see the way different institutions are increasingly using clearing to top up their intake. Cambridge was the only institution that had placed their entire cohort by the June deadline – in contrast, Coventry took 2,530 extras between June and the start of term.