Student applicants top last year’s numbers

MORE people have applied to become undergraduates this year than the previous year, providing an enormous boost to anxious university officials and allaying fears of multiple failures across the sector.

A total of 514,020 people of all ages from across the UK have now applied through UCAS this year for a place on an undergraduate course – up 1.6% on this point in 2019, and reversing a fall in UK applicants from earlier this year.

However, a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies says that 13 UK universities still face going bust in the long run as a result of the Covid-19 crisis if they do not get a government bailout or help with their debts. According to the IFS analysis, the sector’s long-run losses could reach £19bn – the equivalent of half of its overall income in one year – in the worst-case scenario.

The IFS report says that the highest-ranking research-intensive universities are among those facing the biggest drops in income or rises in costs because they have large intakes of international students and large pension liabilities. But given the extensive financial reserves that many of these institutions have, they will not actually be the universities most at risk of running into major difficulties.

Instead, it may be lower-rankedinstitutions that entered the crisis in a weak financial position and with fewer net assets that may find themselves battling to stave off insolvency.“In our central scenario, 13 universities educating around 5 per cent of students would end up with negative reserves and thus may not be viable in the long run without a government bailout or debt restructuring,” the report says.

The UCAS figures show that a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied – the first time more than four out of ten have applied by this point in the cycle. Last year’s equivalent figure was 38.9%.

The number of applicants from outside the EU is currently up 10% to 89,130, while the EU applicant total is currently 2% lower than last year, at 49,650.

The overall number of applicants, of all ages from all domiciles, currently stands at 652,790, and is the highest figure in four years. And more applicants have accepted an offer to start a course this autumn, with fewer students currently planning to defer than in 2019.

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