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UCAS End of Cycle Report 2019

Issued: 17 December 2019

Overview

UCAS has issued its second release of information and data detailing the demand for, and acceptances to, undergraduate UK higher education in 2019. The latest release covers unconditional offer-making, widening participation and access, geography and qualifications. Offering insights to governors and managers about the 2019-20 recruitment cycle, the latest release also prompts questions as to whether similar trends are evident for 2020-21 entry.

Background

Each year the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) published an end-of-cycle report, detailing the demand for, and the acceptances to, undergraduate UK higher education (HE) for the last complete recruitment cycle. The 2019 report covers admissions to undergraduate programmes for the 2019-20 academic year.

The end-of-cycle report is organised into a number of separate chapters, each with an accompanying data file. The chapters and data files are published in phases.

The second release on the 17 December 2019 provides information and data about:

  • Unconditional offer-making (chapter 5)
  • Widening participation and access (chapter 6)
  • Geography (chapter 7)
  • Qualifications (chapter 8)

The third and final data release is scheduled for 30 January 2020 and will include data about individual providers.

Unconditional offer-making

UCAS shows that the proportion of offers that are unconditional varies significantly by subject group. Creative arts and design has the highest proportion at 13%. UCAS suggests this is unsurprising given that an applicant’s suitability for a course is assessed on the basis of their portfolio of work.

Communications and media (15.5%) has the highest number of conditional unconditional offers, followed by humanities and liberal arts at 13.6%. A conditional offer becomes unconditional if the applicant accepts the offer and makes the provider their first choice institution.

UCAS suggests that from the 2021 recruitment cycle an increase in the numbers in the 18 year old population cohort may lead to a decrease in unconditional offer-making.

Widening access and participation

UCAS shows that the entry rate between quintile 1 (areas with the lowest rates of participation in HE) and quintile 5 (areas with the highest rates of participation) narrowed in 2019. However, students from the areas of highest participation remain 2.26 times more likely to enter HE than those from the areas with the lowest participation.

While UCAS reports that the gap narrowed across all three tariff entry groups (higher, medium and lower) in 2019, the gap for higher tariff providers remains large.

Entry rates by gender in 2019 show that women are 1.36 times more likely to enter HE than men. However, for the first time since 2013, the gap narrowed slightly in 2019.

Geography

Overall, the entry rate for all UK 18 year olds in 2019 was 34.1%, a new high. Entry rates varied between the four nations of the UK: Northern Ireland (35.7%); England (35%), Wales (29.8%) and Scotland (26.5% - although it is important to note that a significant proportion of HE students studying in Scotland are not captured by UCAS data). All areas, with the exception of Scotland, recorded an increase in entry rates compared to the previous year.

Taking account of all ages, there was a 1.1% year-on-year increase in the number of students accepted from the UK, despite there being 1.9% fewer 18 year olds.

In England, all regions saw an increase in the entry rates of 18 year olds. Entry rates vary by region with London having the highest (44.5%) and the South West the lowest (29.8%).

Qualifications

Students holding only ‘A’ levels continue to form the largest source of entrants to HE. However, UCAS points out that since 2013, there has been an increase in the range of qualifications and grades students have applied with. It suggests “these factors may have contributed to an increased deviation between predicted and achieved grades.”

UCAS notes that differences between achieved and predicted grades generally increases as attainment decreases. With the exception of the very highest predicted grades, students are generally over-predicted for each grade profile.

Conclusions

The second release of end-of-cycle data for 2019 offers further insights about entry rates and trends for 2019-20. The latest release raises questions, given the continued demographic decline, as to whether the trends witnessed in 2019 will continue for the 2020 cycle. A key question for all institutions is to what extent are the patterns for 2020 entry similar to those found in 2019?

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