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UCAS End of Cycle 2018: a new order

David Kernohan rounds up the big stories from the 2018 UCAS application cycle.
This article is more than 5 years old

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Institutions will already be intimately acquainted with their own UCAS recruitment performance for the 2018 cycle – today marks the first point we can take an overview of the sector.

With the usual range of headwinds – Augar, Brexit, a government that seems determined to do down the traditional three year degree and promote literally anything else in its place – this is a particular turbulent time for providers. And the data (all of these plots are for UCAS acceptances from all domiciles) backs this up.

UCAS data has its own special qualities – remember that nearly all part-time and mature recruitment, and much Scottish recruitment, take place outside of the UCAS system. We don’t know what kind of courses these acceptances are on, and all data is rounded to the nearest 5.

The cycle winners and losers

Comparing performance with last year it is clear that some combination of strategic rethinking and good/bad luck has left us with some quite surprising changes.

In terms of the change in number of acceptances from 2017 to 2018 cycles, the big (mainstream HE) winners (and these have been manually checked several times) are:

  • Nottingham Trent (+1,485)
  • Sunderland (+1,420)
  • Suffolk (+980)
  • De Montfort (+700)
  • East London (+695)

And at the other end of the table:

  • Buckinghamshire New University (-1,140)
  • Leicester (-765)
  • Reading (-680)
  • Plymouth (-685)
  • Brighton (-655)

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This set of visualisations also shows the difference from 2006 performance, percentage differences for both, and allows you to see institutional performance on a timeline via the tabs at the top. In most I’ve filtered out FE providers, primarily because our contextual data is incomplete, but also because they are in general smaller recruiters.

So what’s going on here then? Newer universities growing faster than older ones is a very unexpected trend – recent years have been very much characterised by Russell Group expansion, which may now have concluded – though Exeter, Bristol, and Warwick are still up there. But our top five reflects some genuinely great universities that fashions had turned (unfairly) against in recent years, and it may well be all about the courses on offer. Or maybe you could read our article on unconditional offers…

Update: Buckinghamshire New University dropped me a note to say that UCAS applications for courses run at their partner institution UCFB were processed through Bucks New University’s UCAS account until September 2017. UCFB then moved to operating through its own account. This explains the drop shown in the visualisation.

Par for the course?

The availability of data by institution and subject allows us to peek inside this success – and all of this is plotted below for Wonkhe readers. For Nottingham Trent growth in biological sciences and business have driven expansion, in Sunderland business and social studies are the engine-room of recruitment.

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At a UK level, business continues to grow, and we’ve seen a small uptick in both biosciences and subjects allied to medicine. Creative arts and design – long the bete noir of overly-pragmatic commentators – continues a three-cycle slide from a 2015 peak. Why? – a fascinating question, but not one we can answer from within this data.

Plots for individual subjects are also a fascinating opportunity to look at individual subject area dynamics – Manchester Met, Coventry and Nottingham Trent dominate business and administration in 2018. And a UK map allows us to examine regional recruitment trends – there are only 25 acceptances in Wales, and 25 in South West England, for non-European Languages.

The visualisation is again navigable via the tabs at the top. By subject gives you, effectively, a league table for each top level subject grouping, subject trends shows all subjects on a timeline. By institution gives you the deep dive into recruitment, and the map is self-explanatory. As always, use the filters and buttons to navigate each visualisation.

Other data, other stories

We got the Equalities data late in the day, which is why there’s not been chance to interrogate offer-making behavior and look in detail at performance against the multiple equality measure (MEM). There’s also more data on applications and acceptance by domicile, all of which will turn up on Wonkhe at some point.

The top level news is that we’ve seen an uptick in the differences between the most and least disadvantaged MEM group recruitment for high tariff institutions – the first since records began in 2006. One reason for this is that students from less advantaged background tend not to apply to high tariff institutions.

We should be similarly concerned about the fact that the Black ethnic group has the lowest entry rate to high tariff providers. Only for the most selective institutions is the proportion of white 18 year olds greater than the proportion of Black 18 year olds attending.

What’s next?

For the sector – has already turned to the 2019 UCAS cycle! We get a sneaky look at this from a sector perspective next week – but in the meantime we’ve an alternative look by institution for you.

The UCAS cycle follows the same shape each year, with most of the action taking place in December and January, as this seldom-seen data set from UCAS shows.

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Our friends at IDP Connect (formerly Hotcourses) run a number of massive websites frequently used by prospective students around the world to research their decisions – a look at the proportion of hits on institutional pages has in the past proven itself to be a useful indicator of applicant behavior.

What’s fascinating is that the two undergraduate facing sites show two very different behaviors. The Complete University Guide looks much more like a traditional league table (I guess because that’s what it is, and applicants’ heads will be turned by the rankings), whereas the more open What Uni? shows a pattern with many more similarities to the 2018 cycle (again, with Nottingham Trent on top!) in both December and early January.

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Here you can choose your date range and source site, and also the domicile of students you are interested in. The groups tab is an alternate visualisation of the same data.

2 responses to “UCAS End of Cycle 2018: a new order

  1. Sorry Simon – I hope you found them via the full screen link. I’ve just tweaked the embed code and it seems to be working now.

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