Engineering degree applications continue to rise but the pace slows

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Today UCAS released the latest applications data from the 2015 March cycle. The data shows applications by subject and domicile at the 24 March deadline. So what’s happening with engineering degree applications?

Engineering degree applications are rising but the pace has slowed

I’m happy to report that the number of applications to study engineering across all domiciles has increased yet again, with 159,890 applications for the 2015 cycle. This compares to 148,950 on the previous year representing a 6.84% increase.

Whilst this is a cause for celebration, we should hold off pulling the party poppers just yet as the percentage increase year-on-year has fallen quite considerably compared to 2014. In 2014, there was a 10.14% increase with applications rising from 133840 to 148950.


However, it’s not just engineering degree applications that have seen this trend. The accelerated increases we have seen in the past couple of years for all subjects have slowed this year. Between 2012 and 2013 applications for all courses by all domiciles increased by 2.4%, then in 2015 increased again by 3.75% but this year the increase is at 2.14%

UK applications to all courses increases mildly, but engineering performs stronger

If we look to UK domicile applicants only the number of applications for 2015 stands at 520,880, an increase of 1.58% year-on-year. This is a pretty minor increase if you then compare 2014 to 2013 which saw an increase of 8.41%.

UK applications to study engineering have kept pace slightly better with applications increasing by 7.69%. Whilst this increase is not as strong as the previous year (9.94%) it still suggests that applications to study disciplines such as engineering, which are in strong demand from employers, remain on the rise.

To increase fees or not to increase fees, that is the question…..

What has been interesting to see in recent years is whether tuition fees have had an impact on applications to university. What the trends show overall is that applications have continued to rise, therefore suggesting that changes to fees have had no impact. Furthermore, what we have also seen is that subjects such as engineering have fared well, and today’s results show that the number of applications to study engineering is increasing at a faster rate than other subjects. In a recent survey of EEF members, six in ten said they thought the rise in tuition fees was driving young people to make more informed decisions about their subject choices and career prospects….and it seems engineering is coming out on top.

Attracting the best and brightest?

It is also worth looking at applications to study at UK universities from outside the EU. As we have blogged on previously we have remained concerned about the impact the UK’s student migration policy is having on the ability to both attract students to the UK and to retain them once they graduate.

Today’s figures show a slight increase for all courses for non-EU increasing by 3.33%. Again this is slow in comparison to the previous increase of 8.31%. Again if we look to engineering applications specifically applications have increased by 6.89%. This compares to 11.81% in 2014. Whilst any increase should be seen as positive, there is some cause of concern as to whether these increases continue to descend and potentially move into negative territory.

Applications….acceptances….and qualifiers

Of course it’s not all about applications. Applications give a good representation that young people are considering engineering as a subject to study and possibly a future career.

Yet, when we compare applications to acceptances, there remains a significant gap. Some of this gap had previously been due to caps on student recruitment, but these are now lifted. The remaining gap is most likely due to some applicants not making the grade and, as we have blogged on previously, the fact that despite applications rising, universities don’t have the capacity to recruit them.

Then we need to consider the gap between acceptances and qualifiers. The STEM pipeline is known for being ‘leaky’ and this is true for graduates. Non-continuation rates are higher than average so what actually comes out of the pipeline is far smaller than what goes in…but that’s another blog for another day.




Head of Education & Skills Policy

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