What we know about the 2018 recruitment cycle so far

This morning UCAS has published the latest application data relating to the live recruitment cycle, up to the all-important January 15th deadline.

The data shows that there was an overall 1.4% decline in applications compared to last year, however 18 year-olds are 1% more likely to apply than in 2017. We looked at the trends among subject groups and neighbourhoods of different levels of participation as given by the POLAR 3 classification – this divides applicants into five groups based on participation rates in higher education within their neighbourhood, with quintile 1 referring to the neighbourhoods with the lowest rates of participation.

Fewer applications from low participation areas

Applications from all POLAR quintiles have dropped in the 2017-18 admissions cycle so far. It is also the first year since 2011-12 that applications from the lowest participation neighbourhoods fell. It’s important to set this against the context of the 2.5% fall in the size of the 18 year-old population compared with last year, however. The decrease in applications on last year was larger from applicants living in areas of higher participation –  from quintile 4 (the neighbourhoods of the second-highest levels of participation) applications fell by 2.1% on last year, compared with the 1.8% fall recorded for the quintile of lowest participation. The fall in the lowest quintile was mainly driven by fewer applications from men; by the January 15 deadline this year, less than 4 in 10 applications from those living in the lowest participation neighbourhoods were made by male applicants.

The long term trend suggests that, since 2012-13, there has been generally increasing participation across all social groups. The first signs of a reversal can be spotted in last year’s application cycle (2016-17), with the latest figures showing us an even greater drop in numbers by this year’s deadline.

Though the long term trend shows that applications from the lowest participation quintile have increased at a much faster rate than those from the highest, the gap between the two has not significantly narrowed in the last nine years. There has been an increase of 30% in the number of applicants from the quintile of lowest participation since 2008-09, while applications from the areas of highest participation over the same period increased by only 3%. However, 83,390 applications were made in this year’s application cycle by applicants in the highest participation areas, compared with only 28,810 from those in the lowest. The gap between the two has narrowed by just under 7% in the last nine years.

Applications fell to a greater extent in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland than in England. Wales saw the greatest drop in applications from those in the middle and uppermost quintiles of participation. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, larger declines (of up to 5.7%) were recorded in the middle quintiles.

Subject groups

Applications to European languages, literature and related subjects continued their year-on-year decline since 2010-11, this year falling by a significant 11.2%. The trend also persists across Non-european languages and related subjects, which are falling in popularity at a slower rate.

Subjects allied to medicine – the category that includes applications for nursing – noted an 8.5% fall in applications compared to last year. Set against last year’s 15% drop, we can see that applications to the subject group are shrinking at a slower rate. 277,770 applications were made to allied courses this year – a 22% fall from the number made by the January 2016 deadline. The sharp drop in numbers over the last couple of years can be attributed to changes to the way that degrees in nursing, midwifery and some other health professions are funded in England.

A number of the most popular subject groups stagnated or changed by a very small percentage compared with last year – including Biological sciences (+2%), Social studies (-0.3%) and Business and admin studies (-1.1%). Applications to Law and Computer sciences increased by 4% this year.

Non-EU international students applied for almost all the subject groups in greater numbers, and – in some cases – these increases were significant: there were almost 40% more applications to Computer science courses from non-EU students than there were last year, and 16% more applications to Biological sciences. EU applicants submitted 20% fewer applications to study European language and literature courses, however their demand for Non-european language and literature courses increased by 11%.

[Data visualisations by David Kernohan]

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