For university marketers up and down the UK, January is a critical month, indicating what’s in store for the rest of the year. With the 2022 deadline been and gone, we have picked apart the data around student activity to share their key takeaways from this early point in the cycle on how the landscape has changed over the last 12 months. This insight is then used to make strategic marketing recommendations about the rest of the recruitment cycle and the Clearing period, helping you make smarter decisions.

NB: This is a comparative analysis of the January 2022 application deadline versus the January 2021 deadline unless otherwise stated (and does not take into account any figures from October or June deadlines or Clearing).


Where’s the growth this year? 

The overall number of applicants is down but the number of 18-year-old applicants has increased by 4%. Growth has largely come from applicants in England, which account for over three-quarters of applicants. As well as non-EU international applicants. 

All other UK countries have seen a small decrease and the EU had another large decrease, with the number of EU applicants more than halved since 2020. 

Internationally, China is very buoyant with large numbers heading to the UK for higher education, increasing from 2021. Followed by India and other countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, USA, Singapore, Nigeria, Canada and Saudi Arabia. The figures show a sustained return to international travel for study, with China and India continuing to offer strongholds and the other countries also offering opportunities that are worth focusing your attention on.


How are students making decisions? 

We’re seeing a higher percentage of applicants making use of their full five application choices. The number of students making all five applications saw a 6% increase year-on-year, making them the significant majority (81%) of all applicants.

This means that universities need to really work to retain applicants and convert them to firm acceptances and enrolments. Students are seemingly less connected to their top-choice institutions, with Plans B, C, D and E to fall back on later down the line. We also know from the latest NCS report that, should students find themselves in Clearing during the summer, one in two of them won’t enrol at the first university they contact; they shop around. This approach of keeping options open is reflected in this growing trend of using all five application choices.

So what does this mean for you? Building brand engagement early with students is an absolute must, with your target segments, but do not forget about the students that have already applied. Drive connection with personalised comms and nurture workflows to ensure you hold onto those students and be their first choice if and when it comes to Clearing (check out how LSBU kept their students engaged with a strong email nurture strategy). Starting early is critical, but feeding well-timed and relevant content through automated streams, right through to September, has also never been so important. It’s all to play for in today’s world, make sure you’re doing everything you can before Results Day rolls around.  


Zooming into subject-specific trends

Looking to the different applications made, we can see which subject areas are buoyant. Business and Creative Arts look positive, as do Computing, Engineering, Medicine & Dentistry and Psychology.

Interestingly, Creative Arts saw a dip following loss of funding, and potentially an after effect of the (questionable) government campaigns to make people think about other careers in 2020. However, Creative Arts & Design enjoyed a 5% increase this year, picking up for the second year in a row. So, it’s clear that the creative arts are still popular and important to students. How can universities promote these courses effectively to ensure they continue to bounce back?

Subjects allied to Medicine have seemingly returned to ‘normal’ demand, seeing a 2% decrease this year, after a big spike in 2021 during the pandemic. This downward trend can be attributed to the decrease in mature applicants, as this cluster of subjects actually saw an increase amongst 18-year-olds. 

So, on that note… Using student insights from the likes of Akero Datalabs will allow you to break down data by course groupings, helping you to better understand decision making processes and behaviours of prospective and current students looking to study certain courses. This insight can then enable you to better target and build messaging to recruit onto specific courses. Want to find out more, try it for yourself


So, what about mature students? 

As mentioned in regard to subjects allied to Medicine, there were reductions in numbers of January deadline applicants from all mature age groups. 

  • 21-24 years old: -11.5% applicants
  • 25-29 years old: -19.3% applicants
  • 30-34 years old: -14.6% applicants
  • 35 and over years old: -14.8% in applicants

The Guardian has postulated that this relates to confidence in the job market post-Covid. Fewer concerns about being able to get a job lead to a reduction in university applicants.

But does this mean fewer mature applicants in the system? Or a return to later applications from mature students? We can’t tell at this stage, we would need the full end-of-cycle data for 2022 to understand fully. But this early insight could identify a threat for universities reliant on mature audiences, and/or subjects allied to Medicine, which will require consideration and attention early on in your marketing strategy planning. 

There are two options: what can you do to generate more applications from mature students? Or can you redirect the focus, and promote these subjects to 18-year-olds? However you decide to pivot your strategy to address these insights, our experts are here to help. Get in touch with us today. 

Article by

Nick Willmer

Head of Marketing