How is the domestic student recruitment market changing?

Ahead of the 2024 UCAS deadline, Camilla King from IDP Connect takes a look into both real time demand data as well as student sentiment data to understand shifts in student behaviour.

No recruitment cycle is ever the same and never has that been truer than between 2019 and today.


During that time, we have seen huge shifts in behaviour, and we continue to monitor and assess the impact the pandemic has had on UK student recruitment. Now, universities must jostle with a cost-of-living crisis - which is also impacting institutions from a cost of delivery perspective - with students' decisions on whether higher education is the right choice for them.

Student sentiment

IDP Connect run several student-facing websites to help prospective students make the right higher education choices – balancing rich data, student reviews, league tables and trusted content to give a rounded view of what life at each university in the UK is like. We collect research behaviour data and visualise that through real-time data tools so our partners best understand how changing demand can inform marketing and portfolio decisions. IDP Connect also run regular sentiment surveys to poll students on their decision-making journeys, fuelling our partners with rich insights on the prospective student mindset. These data tools and our most recent longitudinal survey on sentiment, which was conducted on the run-up to the UCAS deadline, showcases some of the changes we are seeing within the 2024 recruitment cycle and key considerations around choice.

Student concerns - the impact of the rising cost of living

At the UCAS October deadline, there was a 5.2% decline in applications year-on-year. Our partners have provided feedback that there has been a slower start to 2024 recruitment with application numbers down year-on-year, as well as Open Day bookings being significantly down (although – happily – they are reporting that the number of those attending has increased). This is mirrored in our data tracking intended year of entry, which shows a 10% drop across November of students researching for this next intake. Could this be impacted by decisions being made around whether to go into tertiary education at all, due to factors such as the rising cost of living or the rise in popularity of apprenticeships. Or is this drop due to how research is changing with an increasing pool of students making decisions outside of the main UCAS cycle?

We asked our users ‘Which information will mainly impact your decision to go into Higher Education?’ 45% of respondents selected financial concerns. When drilling down further and asking ‘How concerned are you about the costs of going to university?’ 40% of respondents selected that their concerns were high (9 out of 10 on a scale of 1 to 10). Students are most concerned about cost of accommodation, followed by day-to-day costs such as food, gas and electricity, and tuition fees. This data reiterates the need for institutions to have information around the cost of living within their communications, with a need for information sessions, comprehensive FAQs and details around financial aid at the forefront of requirements.

Here at IDP Connect we appreciate IHE member requirements are unique

The real time demand data - what does it tell us?

When looking at demand by subject from September 2023 to now vs. the same period running up to the 2023 UCAS deadline in 2022, we can see the continual rise in share of demand for STEM subjects, with strong growth in Applied and Pure Sciences, Computer Science, and Engineering. This aligns with UCAS applications and enrolments over the last few years, perhaps due to importance the UK Government has put on addressing the STEM skills shortages and supporting economic growth. Unsurprisingly, we can see the continued decline in share of demand for public sector courses, with Health and Medicine seeing the biggest decline in share year-on-year. Within Health and Medicine, Nursing has had a 7.7% decline in share of demand and Midwifery a 19.9% decline in share of demand. This is no surprise based on the concerns around pay and conditions and job pressures, alongside widespread news coverage of strikes and other industrial action.

Using data to inform your decision-making

Data is becoming increasingly important in decision-making, whether it's what content should be shared across your websites and in your prospectuses, the growing demand in particular course areas and need for review of portfolio, and make-up of your student population across the domestic and international landscape. Using data to inform and drive these types of decisions will help steer institutions and ensure continued growth. Here at IDP Connect we appreciate IHE member requirements are unique, and we are here to help you understand how changes in student demand and student research might impact your institution.

Camilla King

Camilla is Director of Client Partnerships UK, IDP Connect.

Camilla King, IDP Connect, Headshot 2023.jpg

Having worked at IDP Connect (formerly Hotcourses) since 2011 I have watched us grow and helped to shape our student first products, supporting UK students to find the right higher education course and institution for them, as well as helping our partners make those connections to support their recruitment. My team's focus is to continue to support our partners across the UK, through Whatuni, CUG and Postgraduatesearch, with our products and data services, alongside driving forward the commercial strategy and working with key stakeholders to do that.

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