Universities are encouraged that students value getting a degree
The number of people wanting to study undergraduate courses at UK universities this autumn has risen by 8% on last year, figures show.
Within the figures produced by the admissions body Ucas there is a 13% rise in applications from over-21s, and 12% from EU nationals outside the UK.
Ministers said young people valued a degree in these "challenging times".
University representatives said extra places had been cut by the government's miscalculation of available funding.
Last month England's Universities Secretary, John Denham, sent a strong message to universities that they must stop "over-recruiting", and said there would be financial penalties for doing so.
He said additional student places would be capped at 10,000 - when it was previously thought there would be 15,000 extra places available, meaning A-level students face increased competition for places.
Mr Denham said that he was reducing funding for 2009 from his previous prediction. The problem arose because more of the additional students qualified for grants than had been anticipated.
Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "These are very encouraging figures.
"Applicants are making informed choices and thinking carefully about the value of higher education, particularly in the current economic climate."
The figures also suggest that newer universities are no less popular - with some seeing a rise in applications well above the national rate.
GuildHE, which represents some of the newest universities, says applications to study at Buckinghamshire New University are up 33%, with a 30% rise in applicants to University College Birmingham.
Northern Irish institutions are attracting more English applicants than ever before - with a 17% rise in applicants, even though the fees payable there are the same as in England.
Fees are lower in Wales for Welsh and other EU students, while in Scotland most undergraduate degrees are free for Scottish students and other EU students, but £1,735 a year for those from elsewhere within the UK.
The percentage of applicants from EU countries applying to UK institutions has risen by 12% overall - and applicants from outside the EU have risen by 10%.
The largest percentage increases are in the numbers applying from Romania and Bulgaria - 72% and 58% respectively - though they represent a very small proportion of overall applicants.
The number of students who applied for a full-time course at a UK university was 464,167 - up 33,678 or 7.8% on last year.
Female applicants still outnumber male applicants by a considerable number.
Ucas chief executive Anthony McCLaran welcomed the "strong and continuous growth" in full-time undergraduate applications.
Law and languages
Law is still the most popular subject to study at university, but there has been a 15% rise in applicants to study nursing, which means it enters the top five most popular courses for the first time.
There are also large rises in the numbers wanting to study economics, and combinations involving science. Journalism and biological sciences are also up.
Applications to study Japanese were up by 29%, but European languages appear to be more or less static.
Higher Education Minister David Lammy said: "With nearly 8% more people applying to university and colleges in England than this time last year, it is clear that even in these more challenging times people recognise the value of a degree and the investment in their future career."
But the National Union of Students president Wes Streeting said he was "concerned about the numbers of places available as a result of the cap in numbers imposed by the government".
The NUS called on ministers to fund enough places to ensure all students with the ability and aspiration could go to university.