Demise of the gap year: 17% fall in students deferring university in UK

Increasing numbers of school leavers are shunning an overseas experience to head straight to university

Pupils at Strathearn Grammar School in Belfast celebrate after receiving their A-level results. PA
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The number of students deferring their places at UK universities has dropped 17 per cent, as the popularity of the gap year falls.

Sandwiched between A-levels and the beginning of university, the gap year was once seen as a formative time for young people to go out into the wider world, explore, learn and party.

But this year about 4,100 fewer British and international students opted to push back the beginning of their university courses, figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show. The number fell from 24,230 recorded last year to 20,130 — a drop of slightly over 17 per cent.

When it came to 17 and 18-year-olds there were 3,320 fewer deferrals, down from 19,480 to 16,160.

The cohort of 16,160 school leavers seeking a year away from study makes up 5.4 per cent of the overall number of 17 and 18-year-olds who have secured places at university, down from 6.5 per cent of last year's total.

"There's been a drop in deferrals this year, bringing the number closer to the usual number we see given the larger number of applications this year," a Ucas representative said. "This shows students feel confident and eager about progressing to higher education."

Students seeking to defer their place at university can go about it via two routes — appealing to the institution to push back their start date or reapply to the course next year.

As students received their A-level results last week, Ucas published a video on Twitter to remind them it is not too late to take a gap year.

“You can consider deferring, in which case you need to speak to the university or college that you currently hold your place at and ask them whether that’s an option for you,” advises the Ucas expert in the clip.

“It may not be possible in all situations, particularly for very selective courses or courses where that break in your academic learning might impact your success on the course.

“But for a majority of universities and colleges, a deferral is an option. And then of course, you can always consider reapplying next year once you’ve done that gap year.”

There has also been a shift among British students in the trend to fly the nest and attend a university far away from home, with increasing numbers choosing to live at home while they study.

The cost-of-living crisis has forced students to reconsider a university experience away from home as they seek to save money on accommodation, food and other bills.

De Montfort University in Leicester is among institutions that have recorded a rise in the number of applications from local students.

Katie Normington, chancellor of De Montfort, said the university was “five or six times busier than we were last year” with pupils looking for places.

“Some interesting patterns really are local students are up, so about three more percentage points of students who have got a Leicester postcode and coming to us,” she told Sky News.

“So a sort of shift to people wanting to perhaps stay a bit closer to home. That will be to do with the economics of it and wanting to live at home while they study.”

Despite the majority of students receiving their A-level, BTec and T-level exam results last Thursday, some candidates in England and Wales who took BTec qualifications still have no news of their grades.

Some students who took Cambridge Technical results have also been affected by the delay.

Ofqual, the exams regulator in England, confirmed on Monday evening that while “good progress” was being made, some awarding organisations were still processing results.

A representative said Ofqual’s “first priority is students expecting results this year”, but added that it is “clearly important that we review what has happened to make sure that students in future years receive results when they expect them”.

Updated: August 23, 2022, 3:04 PM