Applications to UK universities have increased by nearly nine per cent (8.9%) in 2008, according to figures released on February 14th by UCAS, the UK university admissions service. 430,489 students applied for a full-time undergraduate course before 15 January this year, 35,182 more than last year. Some of this increase can be accounted by the inclusion of 8,665 students applying for nursing and midwifery diplomas who previously would have applied separately through NMAS. Excluding these individuals from the overall total results in a rise in applicants of 6.7% or 26,517.

Once again the number of females applying to university courses outstripped that of males. According to UCAS 244,167 females, an increase of 10.2% from last year's applicants have already applied for university places as compared to 186,322 applicants and a 7.2% rise for males.

The demographic that saw the biggest percentage change (18.2%) was in applicants aged over 25. Although this again may be accounted for with the inclusion of nurses and midwifery courses whose typical applicants are English females aged over 25 and from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The number of overseas students applying to UK universities has also increased. The total number of applicants increased to 49,664, up from 45,644 in 2007, an increase of 8.8%. The biggest percentage change among overseas applicants was in Bulgaria, up from 400 to 845 (more than 111%).

Figures on applicants from the home countries applying to institutions in the UK showed varied results dependent on the applicants age and intended country of study. The most significant increase was in English students aged over 25, although again the inclusion of nursing and midwifery applicants may skew the data.

The greatest decrease in applicants was Welsh students over the age of 25. In this group there was a fall of 10.9% in applicants wishing to study in the UK. However, overall the number of students from Wales applying to study in the UK increased 5.2%.

Generally, applications across all demographic areas are up on last years figures, including those from lower socio-economic groups. Nationally, data on the socio-economic background of all UK applicants aged 18 years and under shows that 29.6% were from the lower groups in 2008, compared to 28.9% in 2007. Again at least part of this increase may be attributed to the inclusion of applicants to nursing and midwifery.

Commenting on the figures, Sir Martin Harris, Director of OFFA (Office for Fair Access) said, These figures are encouraging, they show that the upward trend in university applications continues. It's particularly pleasing to see that there's been a slight rise in applications from lower socio-economic groups - up to 29.2% from 28.2% in 2007. Given that we are now in the second year of the new fees system in England, the continued growth in applications suggests that students are not being deterred from higher education on financial grounds.
However, shadow innovation, universities and skills secretary David Willetts expressed some concerns in the data from UCAS, It is great to see such a diverse mix of people at our universities. But there is one important group that remain at the bottom of the heap: young working-class males are being left behind.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Stephen Williams shares these concerns, With over half of applicants having parents in professional occupations, social mobility has clearly stagnated. University might not be right for everyone, but the decision to apply should be down to individual students and not pre-determined by their parental background.

Mr Williams called for a comprehensive study of the demographic make-up of applicants ahead of the government's higher education funding review next year. UCAS is also working to closely review the data collected on university applicants with regards to socio-economic background ahead of 2009.