More poorer students could receive no university offers as demand grows – Ucas

Disadvantaged students could miss out on university places, UCAS has warned (Chris Ison/PA)
Disadvantaged students could miss out on university places, UCAS has warned (Chris Ison/PA) Disadvantaged students could miss out on university places, UCAS has warned (Chris Ison/PA)

More disadvantaged students could miss out on university offers by the end of the decade as demand grows, admissions service Ucas has warned.

If offer-making behaviour remains the same, nearly one in 11 (8.6%) of the most disadvantaged students could receive no offers in 2030 due to increased competition for places, a Ucas analysis suggests.

In 2022, only 2.3% of the most disadvantaged students received no offers.

Universities could introduce targeted offer-making strategies and increase the use of contextual information to ensure disadvantaged students do not miss out, the admissions service has suggested.

An analysis by Ucas predicts that one in six (16.7%) of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (POLAR4 Quintile 1) could get just one offer in 2030, compared to one in sixteen (6.3%) in 2022.

Overall, Ucas has predicted there could be 30% more applicants to higher education by the end of the decade.

A debate about the challenges and opportunities created by rising demand was launched by Ucas in March as it projected that around a million people a year could apply to higher education by 2030.

Last year, 767,000 people applied to higher education in the UK.

In an essay as part of Ucas’s Journey to a Million debate, Ben Jordan, head of policy at Ucas, said the “big challenge” was managing a likely growth in disadvantaged university applicants as demand grows.

He said: “If offer-making behaviour remains as it currently is, what we project is that we’ll see a widening of the offer rate gap.

“Generally speaking, offer rates will likely decline, but our projections indicate that it could be disadvantaged students that miss out – with a greater proportion of these students getting one or less offers, and a smaller proportion receiving three or more.”

Mr Jordan added: “A change in offer-making strategies by university and colleges, such as the increased use of contextual information or more targeted offer making to certain cohorts, could reverse some of the risks we observe.”

Lower entry requirements for disadvantaged students may also help this cohort, he said.

Competition for places in higher education is likely to intensify as more students seek to secure university courses, Ucas has said previously.

The projected growth in demand is being driven by a rise in the number of young people in the UK turning 18 in the years to come, as well as a rise in the number of international students applying to UK universities

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said: “Widening access is a key priority for Ucas and while we have seen huge strides in participation across UK higher education, our national debate has brought into sharp focus the challenges surrounding growth of competition and availability of options to students.

“Adapting offer-making behaviours will help mitigate the risk presented by the Journey to a Million and an increase in applicants resulting in an increase in disappointment, with the potential for those at the lower end of the attainment spectrum being squeezed out.

“The Journey to a Million does present new opportunities however, and with timely collective action we can maintain significant progress in widening access through efforts including targeted offer-making strategies, minimum entry requirements for underrepresented cohorts and outreach work.”

A Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson said: “Universities are committed to narrowing equality gaps further, even as demand is expected to grow in the coming years.

“This will require a sustained focus on outreach and working closely with schools, and universities will be developing new access and participation Plans to help drive this important work.”