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SFC’s Cathy Mitchell takes a closer look at this week’s UCAS data.

Banner image for What else does the UCAS Data Tell us?Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)


On Thursday 11 July, UCAS published its latest report on applicants and applications from the 2019 UCAS Undergraduate cycle at 30 June.

The summary headlines were:

  • 18 year-old application rate slightly down in Scotland.
  • SIMD20 applicants increased by 3%, but at a lesser rate than the increase in POLAR applicants in England.
  • The number of student nursing applicants in England has fallen 29% since 2016, the year in
    which the UK Government scrapped the nursing bursary.

But a closer look from a Scottish perspective tells a slightly different story. It’s important to remember UCAS figures don’t count the HE provision at colleges and in Scotland we deliver more than a quarter of all HE in colleges.

The 18-year old application rate is one specific measure. Overall applicant numbers were down across the UK – in England by 1% and in Scotland by 3%. See interactive data on all age groups here.

SIMD20 applicants increased one percentage point to 16.6% – the biggest increase in one year (from 14% in 2010).

Scottish nursing numbers have risen in the past two years, and are at their highest rate since 2010.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Applicant numbers in Scotland are on a downward trend from a peak in 2016. While we can only
speculate, this trend could be influenced by a number of factors, including the decreasing demographics for 18 year olds. Overall there was a decrease of 2,360 applicants from Scotland, of which 1,710 were
18 year olds (72.5%).


SIMD by Age

Despite the increase in applicants from SIMD20 backgrounds, the difference in trends across ages is notable – with much of the increase coming in the over 20s (Interactive data on all ages groups). 

SIMD by age 

The older applicants are much more balanced across SIMD quintiles, with 22.2% of applicants aged 20 and over from SIMD20, compared to 11.3% of 18 year old applicants and 10.8% of 19 year old applicants.
SFC currently monitors and publishes data on this in the SFC Participation Indicators by age (under 21 and 21 and over) for Scottish HEIs and funds the Schools for Higher Education Programme (SHEP) to encourage more applicants from widening participation school leavers.

Applications to Scottish Institutions by Domicile

English Domicile applications to Scotland – up 1%.
Scottish Domicile applications to Scotland – down 4%.

EU Domicile applications

EU domicile applications to Scottish institutions – down 2%.
EU domicile applications to English institutions – up 3%.
EU domicile applications to Welsh institutions – down 14%.
EU domicile applications to Northern Ireland institutions – down 6%.
Overall EU domicile applications to UK up 1%.


Applicants by Ethnic Group: Scotland

  Number  % of Applicants  % Change on 2018 
Asian   2,320 5% 0%
Black  950 2% 1%
Mixed  1,000 2% 3%
White  42,040 90% -4%
Other  390 1% 22%


Women made up 62% of Scottish Domicile (SD) applicants. The number of applicants for both men and women dropped compared to 2018, by 5% and 2% respectively.

Following the usual pattern for SD entrants, 15.1% of SD male applicants were from SIMD20 compared to 17.5% of female SD applicants.

Subject level gender imbalances are also an important policy area for improvement and the
male/female subject comparisons for Scottish Domicile applicants are shown below.

Male / Female Subject Comparison for Scottish Domicile Applicants

Male / Female Subject Comparison for Scottish Domicile Applicants

With challenging targets set for Scottish HEIs on the gender and SIMD status of their entrants, this data is important to keep in mind as it represents the pool of potential entrants for 2019-20 and the patterns shown here will have a bearing on the makeup of next year’s entrant cohorts.