Green lawn with a graduated student holding balloons next to a University of Glasgow sign
Credit: University of Glasgow

Fall in number of students accepted to their first choice university

By Niamh Flanagan

The rate of entry to university looks set to fall for the first time since 2012. 37.6% of 18-year-olds will be attending university this autumn, down from 38.4% in 2021, according to data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Leading explanations for this statistical shift suggest that while demand for university places has not fallen, the capacity for supplying said places has weakened. Rates of rejection from university have been falling steadily up until 2021, where they saw a slight increase. However, this year the rejection rate from more selective institutions has risen to almost 40% – higher than it has been in almost two decades.

Whilst the proportion of young people applying for a university place has continued to rise, as it has since 2012, for the first time the number of those applicants receiving their first-choice university has fallen. In 2021 213,580 students received their first-choice place – 73.4%. This year, only 202,590 students have – 66.6%. The chance of attaining a first-choice place is down by almost 10% – and a record seven points.

It does not appear that this shift in the rate of place allocations was anticipated – with UCAS having predicted ‘record or near record’ numbers of students receiving their first-choice places. As things stand, 41,000 university applicants are unplaced. This trend looks set to continue in upcoming years, as the economics of investing in university places becomes less and less profitable.

Universities appear to be simply unable to continue enrolling increasing numbers of students each year. Instead, there appears to be an increase in the recruitment of overseas students, who pay fees of up to £40,000 a year, compared to the £9,250 fee required of UK students. As such, getting into university appears to be becoming an increasingly hard task for future generations in the UK.


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