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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 January 2008, 16:12 GMT
Record rise in UK undergraduates
More women are starting university than men
A record number of students started university courses in the UK in 2007, according to latest figures.

The statistics have been described as "encouraging" by Ucas, which collated the data.

The higher education body found that 22,540 more undergraduates were accepted in 2007 than 2006.

The number of applicants rose by 5.6% from 506,304 in 2006 to 534,495 in 2007 and both applications and acceptances beat the previous record in 2005.

The total number of students starting university in 2007 was 413,430 - up from 390,890 in 2006.

Ucas chief executive Anthony McClaran said: "These figures are encouraging news for the higher education sector and demonstrate that students' desire for a university education in the UK has not diminished.

There were many predictions that the new fee system would deter students from progressing to higher education, but today's statistics portray an impressive recovery in application numbers
Anthony McClaran, chief executive, Ucas
"There were many predictions that the new fee system would deter students from progressing to higher education, but today's statistics portray an impressive recovery in application numbers, a pattern that was also evident following the introduction of fees in the 1990s."

There was a rise of 5.9% in the number of applicants aged under 20; a rise of 6.9% for those aged 21 to 24 and a 3.3% rise in those aged 25 and over.

The proportion of places awarded to women grew from 53.8% to 54.1%, continuing the long-term trend of more women going to university than men.

The year-on-year growth in the number of women accepted on courses rose by 6.4% and men by 5.1%.

Overseas students

Nationally, the percentage of students accepted from lower socio-economic groups increased by 6.9% from 82,245 in 2006 to 87,946 in 2007.

Other social groups experienced a 5.5% rise.

There was a 7.9% increase in overseas students - Norway (17.5%), Malaysia (14.4%), China (12.4%), Sri Lanka (8.6%), Hong Kong (7.9%) and Canada (7.5%) saw the largest rises outside the EU.

The National Union of Students (NUS) is not wholly encouraged by the findings.

NUS president Gemma Tumelty said: "These figures are extremely worrying.

"Although the overall number of accepted applicants has risen since 2005, there are now fewer students from poorer backgrounds and fewer students over the age of 25 - exactly the students the sector is trying to attract.

"In 2005, before variable top-up fees were introduced, there were 89,050 successful applicants from lower socio-economic backgrounds - this has now decreased by 1.24% to 87,946.

"And the number of successful applicants over the age of 25 has also decreased over the same period - from 42,471 to 42,261.

"Top-up fees could be seriously hampering the government's agenda to widen participation in higher education.

"This must be acknowledged in the 2009 fees review. Unless a fairer system is implemented, university will only be accessible to those who can afford it."

Higher education minister Bill Rammell said: I am extremely pleased to see that acceptances from England are at an all time high, with a continuation in the positive trend in the take up in sciences and languages.

"The increase of 7.7% in the number of students from England from the bottom four socio economic groups entering HE is very encouraging and shows that our policies are having a real impact."

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