This site is part of the Informa Connect Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

The demand for the UK's elite Universities shows no sign of slowing

The demand for the UK's elite Universities shows no sign of slowing

Fiona McKenzie, Head of Education at Carfax Education, looks at why international students still flock to secure a place at elite UK universities and the economic factors affecting applications,

Every year thousands of international students pursue their higher education in the UK at prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, ranked #1 and #3 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023. With their long-standing reputations, Oxford (founded 1096) and Cambridge (founded 1209), and their academic prestige, their graduates are highly sought-after by employers making such institutions increasingly attractive to international students.

Application numbers

 UCAS data released this year, international applications are predicted to rise by 46% to 208,500 by 2026,  so the landscape will continue to be highly competitive. Yet, this year has seen a record drop in the number of Oxbridge applications this year (5% Cambridge, 2.6% Oxford). However, Clare Marchant, Chief Executive at UCAS, is not concerned and commented: "Whilst applications have been very resilient throughout the pandemic, the robust demand from China, India and Hong Kong shows the enduring appeal of our world-class universities."

Three main reasons for the reduction in applications are Brexit, the Cost of Living, and the Pandemic. Applications through UCAS in 2021 also showed 40% fewer students from the EU applying to UK universities because students can no longer claim home-fee status or access tuition fee loans and instead face tuition fees of up to £40,000 per year. The cost of living has also upped student's expenditure; with the UK's inflation rate hitting a 40-year high of 10.1%, students are feeling the crunch.

Oxbridge vs US Ivy League acceptance rates

Oxford and Cambridge remain extremely competitive and highly sought after as the English-speaking world's oldest universities. With their outstanding academic reputation and research-based teaching, domestic and international students apply in their thousands, knowing that graduating from an Oxbridge education will open up unparalleled job opportunities in the future. It's no secret that getting an offer from Oxbridge is incredibly challenging; the University of Oxford typically has a 17% acceptance rate, with Cambridge a little higher at 21%, although it is worth noting that these rates are higher than some Ivy League universities, such as Harvard and Columbia — which typically only accept around 5% of their applicants. To be offered a place at Oxford or Cambridge (you can only apply to one) requires applicants to undertake a rigorous screening process with top grades in pre-assessment tests required before being invited to interview. There is also the question of the number of places available: Oxford has 12,510 undergraduate places – 3,300 places per year – 23,000 applied in 2020, and Cambridge has 20,426 applications, 3,997 places. With students from over 160 nationalities studying there, the demand will always be higher than the places available.

Making an application to Oxbridge stand out Stellar academic grades are a given when applying to Oxbridge, but applications must shine beyond this to be in with a chance of securing an interview. My advice to parents and students on other attributes to note beyond the grades and to make an application stand out would be to focus on the following:

•    Demonstrate intellectual curiosity

•    Show a mature understanding of your subject

•    Cite any extra reading and additional courses that are relevant to highlight your key areas of interest.

•    The admissions tutors are most interested in your intellectual ability and passion for the subject. We have worked with outstanding students who have undertaken independent research projects on wave energy, published poetry collections, and are Olympiad maths champions. Education is one of life's most important investments. International students who choose a UK degree will be well on their way to a secure, rewarding, and exciting future with excellent career prospects.

Author : Fiona Mckenzie, Head of Education, Carfax Education

Head of Education for Carfax Education, Fiona McKenzie heads up a team of consultants. Educated at Rugby School and St. Andrew's University, and for the past 30 years has worked in independent education in Australia, the U.K, and the UAE. Her roles in schools have encompassed teaching, marketing, recruiting, alongside running alumni relations. Fiona moved into education consultancy and ran the Middle East business of another firm before joining Carfax Education. Over the years Fiona has worked with hundreds of families, guiding them to make the best educational choices for their children. Carfax Education reports a remarkable success rate in securing enviable places for its students. Some 90 per cent of Carfax pupils secured places at their top boarding school choice, and 75 per cent were admitted into top 25 British boarding schools.