Why are UCAS numbers going down?

A new report from UCAS suggests that UK university intake will be down in 2017 - but why has this happened, and what does it mean for schools?

Brexit is still being debated in Parliament, and Britain is still a long way from actually being out of the European Union. But declining numbers of students applying to UK universities, as reported by UCAS, suggests that fears over funding for EU students and confusion as to the future of Britain’s place in Europe are already having an effect on higher education.Yesterday, it was revealed that just over half a million students have applied to university in the UK for 2017 entry to full-time undergraduate courses. This is down 5% from last year’s numbers, and applications from the European Union have declined at an even sharper rate, down by 7%. While there are several factors affecting the overall numbers – applications to nursing courses are down, as is demand from older students, and there has been slower growth among applications from 18-year-olds – this is the first time that the number of EU students applying has dropped since 2013.

The widespread lack of clarity on Brexit and the status of EU students has contributed to an atmosphere of confusion over whether UK universities are still an attractive and affordable prospect to non-UK students. In fact, any EU student who is currently at a UK university, or who is planning to begin their studies this year, will pay exactly the same as they would have before Brexit. Last October, the government announced that EU students starting at English universities in 2017 would be eligible for the same loans and grants as ever, and that this eligibility will continue throughout their studies. The terms of this agreement also cap tuition fees for non-UK EU students at the same amount as UK students. This followed the announcement made in June that students currently at UK universities would have their funding protected until the end of their course.

“International students make an important contribution to our world-class universities, and we want that to continue,” said the Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, in October. “This latest assurance…will provide important stability for both universities and students.”

However, it seems the government’s assurances may need some help getting through to students. Panic over the long-term future of the EU – such as Alistair Fitt, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, saying that Brexit “would probably be the biggest disaster for the university sector in many years” to the Education Select Committee – may have filtered down into confusing messages for students.

Some good news out of the report was the statistic that non-EU international applications through UCAS have remained steady, showing UK universities have maintained their strong international appeal. And it’s important to note that a new THE (Times Higher Education) ranking of the world’s most international universities was dominated by universities in the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, and Australia. THE’s report cited the academic prestige of these countries and the fact that 18 out of the top 20 institutions on their list were anglophone – and, of course, BridgeU currently supports applications to universities in the first three countries, with Australia coming later this year.

Applying to university, whether you’re inside the EU or out of it, can be a confusing process at the best of times. With BridgeU, schools can reduce the time they spend on administration and draw on powerful data to help their students make the best decisions, by showing them their best matches from ~100,000 course and university options. If you’re a university and careers advisor in Europe whose students who may have been put off applying to the UK from the EU, remember that that their applications will be considered until 30 June 2017 – so there’s still plenty of time to take advantage of the benefits of an international education.

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