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The 2022 UCAS Low-Down and lessons for 2023

UCAS has released their end-of-cycle data for 2022, allowing us to see a bigger picture of how student acquisition at UK universities fared during the year. The numbers are interesting, but they’re not ‘record-breaking’ in the way they’re being made out to be. Students that were placed via Clearing routes increased by 19% year on year (YoY). However, the number of students placed through Clearing in 2022 is still smaller than that of 2016, 2017, 2019and 2020. Context is needed when looking at these numbers.

There are more accepted applicants and they’re getting older

In 2022 there was a 0.2% increase in accepted applicants to UK universities. The increase we saw in accepted applicants is small when you look at it on its own, but it’s especially small when you consider how many more 18-year-olds there are - the number of 18-year-olds in the UK is expected to grow by 13% between 2020 and 2024. Interestingly, the age bracket that did see a record number of placed applicants were those aged 35+. This age group saw a 6%increase YoY, and it’s the highest number of students in that age bracket being accepted on record. The most popular subjects against this age group weresubjects allied to medicine, as well as business and management.

Consistent patterns in the subject choices made by students

Placed applicants from Quantile 1 postcodes increased by 2% and this increase came from England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland didn’t see an increase). Across all age groups, the most popular subjects were business and management, social sciences and subjects allied to medicine. Computing saw the biggest increase in placed applicants YoY, with an increase of 11% whereas, unsurprisingly and sadly, nursing has seen a 10% decrease in accepted applicants YoY. This is mostly from the rest of UK (rUK) market.  

Fluctuations in international students and the next generation of applicants

In England, the 18% increase in international students mostly contributed to their 1% increase in acceptances overall. The 32% decline in EU students has massively affected this market. Scotland has seen the largest overall decrease in accepted applicants YoY, with a 7.52% decrease and was also the only country that saw declines across all markets. Northern Ireland was the only country to see an increase in EU students, which increased by 49.69% YoY. This is a huge increase and may be from Irish students moving over the border -university fees are more affordable for Irish students in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK.

Ultimately, the number of applications made by 18-year-olds was up by +4%, but this didn’t translate into placed applicants. It would be naïve to think that the long-term effects of COVID (such as universities oversubscribing during the pandemic, and A-level students not having exam experience), isn’t having an impact on this cohort of prospective students. On top of this, the cost-of-living crisis is also hanging over their shoulders ,making the prospect of moving out of home and getting into massive debt more unappealing than ever. If COVID taught us anything, an overreliance on international students is precarious. We need to start being realistic, empathetic and practical with young students in the UK. Promoting courses that see an increase in placed applications (instead of courses that see big numbers of applications overall), as well as addressing the very valid fears that young people now face around affordability, will be key in seeing bigger increases in placed applications. We need to do better than a 0.2% increase.

 *UCAS numbers all came from