Quite a lot, actually. So, let’s take a look in some more detail at the statistics for universities in the capital, to understand more about the cohort progressing to higher education this year in the UK’s largest, most diverse and most HE-dense city.
The higher grades awarded during the two pandemic admissions cycles led to an increase in offer-making across all higher education institutions, particularly at the highest tariff universities. This year acceptances to undergraduate degrees across the whole UK were down very slightly, by less that 1 per cent.
The number of accepted applicants for degrees across the country was up very slightly: however only by less than one percent and less than 1,000 individuals. At London providers, the increase in accepted applicants was slightly bigger, at just over one percent. As a city with many providers across tariff bands serving a broad range of students, London’s higher education institutions have come out of the 2022 admissions cycle with 93,200 accepted students – significantly more than in 2019 (85,770), but slightly lower than the 2020 peak (93,435).
In London, this application cycle saw a significant decrease in demand for degree study from mature students aged 25 and over, but a significant continuing increase in applications from eighteen-year-olds. The growth in numbers of eighteen-year-old applicants increased eight percent between 2021 and 2022, resulting in more than 300,000 applications for the first time.
The reason for this changing balance in London might related to the Covid-19 lockdowns or be a part of longer-term changes taking place. For some groups, the pandemic provided the circumstances to study as a mature student, motivated either by interest (with more free time at home) or necessity (upskilling or transitioning between industries) or a combination of both. We also know that numbers of students in all age groups over 25 have been falling for longer than the pandemic has been a factor, so the most recent round of applications are affected by both trends simultaneously.
In London providers this year, 35.6% of accepted applicants were White, compared to 66.8% nationally. Looking at demand for degree study this year, demand from students of all ethnicities other than White grew both in London and nationally. The growth in London was slightly lower (7.8%) than the national growth (8.5%), but with London’s significantly more diverse starting point, it remains the most ethnically diverse region in UK higher education by a considerable margin. The continuing increase in demand from students of a wide range of ethnicities means London is still on track for an even more hyper-diverse student population by the 2030s.
Qualification routes into HE in London
Within London higher education providers, learners holding at least one BTEC (applying with either all BTECs or a mix of BTECs and A-levels) made up 17% of accepted applicants in 2022, a small decrease from 2021 when they made up 17.8%. A greater proportion of students are accepted into London higher education with BTECs as an entry qualification than the national average, which is around 15%, however because the national statistics include Scottish school students who are more likely to apply to study in Scotland, the qualification landscapes are not perfectly comparable.
As an entry route into higher education, BTECs are losing ground more slowly in London than in the UK as a whole. The decrease in BTEC-holding students as a proportion of accepted applicants was 1.7 percentage point nationally between 2021 and 2022, compared to less than one percentage point in London.
Though their market share is continuing to decrease amid government conversations about other qualifications taking their place, BTECs remain a clearly viable pathway into undergraduate study, and this pathway is more common in London than it is elsewhere. The fact that so many students are entering HE through BTEC routes prompts us to ask what risks the sector would face following mass discontinuing of BTECs. In a system where 42% of Black students entering London universities do so with a BTEC, the discontinuing of these qualifications has the capacity to do profound damage to widening access efforts, across the UK and particularly in London. The valuable work that London’s higher education providers have done to widen access is at risk of being undone by the removal of a qualification route that, as we can see in the 2022 statistics, high numbers of students continue to use to access degree-level study.
The trends that are emerging now in the 2022 data may be an early indicator of post-Covid-19 application and acceptance trends: continuing growth in demand for undergraduate study from 18-year-olds and students of ethnicities other than White, and BTECs continuing to occupy space in the application process even as they start winding down. However, this blog contains only a fragment of the observations that could be made about London’s applicants and accepted students in 2022. We hope this handful of trends starts a conversation about where research and evaluation can look at next as the sector works out how to serve these incoming students and the cohorts of future years.
This blog has been written by Emily Dixon, Programmes, Communications & Research Officer at London Higher.