Record number of disadvantaged 18-year-olds look to study most selective degrees

A record number of 18-year-olds from deprived areas have applied to the most selective universities and courses, according to newly released data from Ucas.

The university admissions service has published its application data for courses with an early October deadline – which includes medicine, dentistry and veterinary degrees, as well as courses at Oxford and Cambridge.

The data showed that 3,160 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, defined as coming from an area of the UK in the bottom 20% for the proportion of young people participating in higher education, had applied for these courses.

This figure was up 7% from 2,950 applicants during last year’s admissions cycle.

The interim chief executive of Ucas, Sander Kristel, said it was “encouraging” to see students from the most disadvantaged areas “aiming high with their choices for next year”.

There was also a 6% increase in UK-domiciled applicants declaring receipt of free school meals, which Ucas said was in the context of rising numbers of pupils in England receiving them.

In total, 39,310 18-year-olds from the UK applied by the October 16 deadline, the second highest number on record.

However, there was an 18% decrease in the total number of 19-year-old UK applicants – to 5,580 from 6,770 last year.

There was also a 7% drop in the number of 18-year-olds from the UK applying to study medicine – at 11,750, compared with 12,700 last year.

China remains the largest source market for international applicants, with 4,340 students from the country applying for courses with an October deadline.

The largest growth in international applicants since last year has come from the US and Singapore – with applications from the US increasing by 9% and Singapore by 6%.

Mr Kristel said: “It’s encouraging to see a record number of young students from the most disadvantaged areas aiming high with their choices for next year.

“The narrowing of the disadvantage gap, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, shows the effort we have made as a sector, to ensure everyone in society can aspire to study the most competitive courses.”

The deadline for all other undergraduate courses is January 31 2024.