The story of the cycle: key points from the UCAS Equal Consideration Deadline

Felicity Lloyd, International Partnerships Manager at UCAS, considers the applicant story and looks deeper into the data following the 2024 UCAS Equal Consideration application deadline.

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Getting to look beyond the data to understand the human experience is one of my favourite parts of the job.


During busy times of the year, volunteers from the wider organisation join the applicant-facing customer experience (CX) team on the phonelines. I’ve now had the pleasure of volunteering on the phonelines twice. While I’d like to say that I made some dreams come true and that I’m personally responsible for getting those applications in on time; in reality, both occasions have been a humbling exercise in understanding the real time challenges and stresses of applicants. 

My most recent experience on the phoneline was on Equal Consideration Deadline day, commonly known as ECD. During my shift, I spoke to the whole gamut of applicants - from prospective nurses going back into education after a 30-year break, to young female Afghani refugees excited by the prospects ahead of them, to the anxious applicants who had submitted weeks ago but wanted to triple check everything was okay. All of them had their own stories to tell and their own futures to create. 

If we look deeper into the numbers we can see that the different applicant groups paint a diverse picture

What does the data tell us? 

We know the sector is arguably facing some of the biggest ever challenges and data is of the upmost importance to institutions. 

By the end of ECD, 594,940 students had applied to study in university or college this year through UCAS - a 0.3% decline since 2023. But, if we look deeper into the numbers, we can see that the different applicant groups paint a diverse picture.

  • This is the second highest year on record for the number of 18 year-old UK applicants, but the percentage of UK 18-year-olds that have applied had decreased slightly from 41.5% to 41.3% in 2023. This is on top of the 2% drop we saw last year, although this must be considered against 2022 (a year that is increasingly looking extraordinary). 
  • The number of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds (Polar 4 Quintile 1) is up 2% on last year and means a 30% increase over the last 10 years. Increasing numbers of these students (up 4.4%) have applied to the most selective (high tariff) universities. 
  • UK mature applicants have dropped by 10% in the last year and this is directly linked to the decrease in applications to nursing. Adult nursing and mental health nursing have been particularly hard hit.  
  • UK higher education remains attractive globally. Overall, international applicants are up by 0.7% since last year, now standing at 115,750.
  • Within this, the biggest numerical increases are: China (+3.3%), Turkey (+37.4%) and Canada (+13.7%); and the largest decreases Nigeria (-45.8%), Hong Kong (-9.6%), and India (-3.9%). The Gulf (GCC) region continued to show strong growth at 9.35%. The drop in Nigeria was expected given domestic economic challenges but the drop from India must be understood in the context of 2023 being a record year for applications, and this is still the second highest year of applications from India on record. 
  • There has been continued demand for STEM courses. Since 2023, applications from all ages and all domiciles to engineering and technology courses have seen 10% growth, and applications to both mathematical sciences and computing have seen an increase of 7%. 

Where does this put us on the Journey to a Million? 

When UCAS projected 1 million applicants by 2030, we identified a number of factors that could affect these projections, including the demand from international and mature students, and factors such as local economies, global competition, geopolitics and governmental policy. 

The demand for UK HE will continue to evolve and we are still on track for growth, but our data scientists and insights team will be keeping a careful eye on the numbers to see if the UCAS projections are still accurate. 

You can find more details on the cycle and applicant data on the UCAS Dashboard, or catch-up with us at the UCAS Access All Areas Conference in May or the UCAS International Conference for providers in June.

Felicity Lloyd

Felicity Lloyd is International Partnerships Manager at UCAS.

Felicity Lloyd UCAS International Partnerships Manager

Felicity worked in international recruitment and admissions within UK higher education providers for over 10 years, moving to UCAS in early 2023. In her role she focuses on building relationships with the international side of providers and advocates for the student voice ensuring that international students are centred in thoughts and actions.

Connect with Felicity on LinkedIn

Read How can diversifying providers help meet the challenge of a journey to a million?, authored by IHE's Director of Policy and Development, Joy Elliott-Bowman, as part of the Journey to a Million essay collection. 

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