Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

Some headlines on university entry from A-Level results day by Mary Curnock Cook

  • 16 August 2018
  • By Mary Curnock Cook

This guest blog has been kindly provided to HEPI by Mary Curnock Cook, Senior Adviser to Cairneagle, a member of the HEPI Advisory Board and the former Chief Executive of UCAS.

The UCAS data published this morning gives a useful guide to trends in undergraduate entry to higher education – roughly 80% of the 2018 entry cohort is captured so, although it is imperfect, it is meaningful.


For universities the number of students placed is key because each student brings a tuition fee income stream with them.  For politicians, the entry rates are more critical because these show behaviour trends within the (diminishing) population.

The number placed as of today is 1% down at 411,860.  That’s 5,000 fewer students or about £140 million less income for universities over the next three years.  EU and international recruitment has held up rather better than UK recruitment, mainly because of a 2.5% fall in the 18 year old population in the UK this year.  The population fall means over 18,000 fewer people finishing secondary education this year of which some 6,000 might have been expected to apply for university.

Who’s losing out?

In a repeat and perhaps an amplification of last year’s trends, it is the lower-tariff universities that are suffering most.  Lower-tariff universities (think former polytechnics mainly) have 4,000 fewer confirmed students recruited this morning.  Medium-tariff universities are down 1,700 students while the higher-tariff universities (think Russell Group mainly) have managed to increase their numbers by 1,310 against this time last year.  And as the time series from UCAS below shows, higher and medium-tariff universities have managed to soak up most of the growth in student numbers since the cap on recruitment started being lifted from 2012 onwards.

18 year old entry rates

While the number of UK students is falling, the proportion of them applying and getting into university continues to grow.  On A-Level results day, the proportion of 18 year-olds placed had grown marginally in all UK countries except Northern Ireland.  Note also the uptick in Wales perhaps due to the more generous maintenance grants now available.

Disadvantaged Students

Things also look good for more disadvantaged students, measured by the serviceable but imperfect area-based POLAR4 measure.  Here we see that participation rates for POLAR Quintile 1 (roughly the fifth of the population living in areas having the lowest participation rates in higher education) has again grown, up 0.3% to 16.4%.  Quintile 5, from the highest participation areas, is also up by 0.7%. The most advantaged (Quintile 5) are still 2.4 times more likely to enter higher education than the least advantaged (Quintile 1).

Men and Women

Men continue to lose out in higher education.  Across UK, EU and international, 61,380 fewer men have been placed in UK universities. For home-based 18-year olds the gap is 26,850 making young women nearly 40% more likely to participate in higher education than young men.


Although white students are still the largest group of undergraduate students, BAME students have a higher and faster growing appetite for higher education.  Today’s data from UCAS indicate that while the number of placed white students from the UK is down 3%, placed BAME students are up 1%. The entry rate by ethnic group is the lowest for the White group and Asian students are 15% more likely to enter higher education.


All data are from UCAS:

These are not final rates as the data on A level results day typically represents only about 80% of the End of Cycle data.

1 comment

  1. Gordon Dent says:

    Are you able to comment on differences between success rates in England, where most A-levels are now linear, and Wales & Northern Ireland, where they are still modular?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *