A record number of 18-year-olds in England have applied for university places - but the overall number of further education applicants has fallen.
Information published by UCAS – the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service – showed that, by the June 30 deadline, there had been 649,700 applications from people of all ages, in the UK and abroad.
This was a drop of around 25,000 (4 per cent) compared to the same time last year.
Now universities are being called on to do more to support mature students.
Of the overall applicants, 529,620 came from within the UK, and 49,250 from the EU – a drop of 5 per cent.
The only increase came from overseas applicants, with 70,830 applying for places – a rise of 2 per cent.
There was a slight rise in the number of 18-year-olds applying – 321,950 compared to 320,440 last year – with the majority coming from women.
This was a pattern reflected in all ages groups, with almost 100,000 more women applying for places – 373,000 compared to 276,700 men.
The UCAS figures showed 37.9 per cent of 18-year-olds in England had applied for further education – the highest level recorded – while in Wales the figures fell slightly.
It won’t be clear how many 18-year-olds will actually be offered places until A-level results are published in August.
Professor Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education, called for more to be done to help mature students.
He said of the UCAS report: “This is further evidence of the need for action to support access to higher education for mature students, who are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds than 18-year-old applicants.
“The downward trend in mature student numbers is now one of the most pressing issues in fair access to higher education.
“Undoubtedly, the reasons behind the fall are complex and multiple, but universities and colleges should look to do what they can to reverse the decline in mature student applications, as a matter of urgency.”
Professor Ebdon called on higher education providers to consider offering “alternative, more flexible” ways of teaching and studying that could fit around family and work commitments.
University fees in England will increase this year to £9,250 – the first rise since 2012 – while the interest on student loans will rise from 4.6 per cent to 6.1 per cent in the autumn.
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