Every year, UCAS supports 1.5 million students to explore entering higher education, employment and apprenticeships.

Of those who choose to pursue higher education in the UK, UCAS manages almost 3 million applications, from around 700,000 individuals. The shared service brings:

  • efficiencies for students
  • efficiencies for the higher education providers considering those applications
  • clear transparent expectations for what the admissions journey will look like
  • a wealth of data to help the sector understand where opportunities for improvement lie  

Underpinning this shared system is a set of application dates and deadlines. These uphold fair admissions for home and international students, avoid a first-come-first-served approach, and allow students to make well considered and informed decisions; while response deadlines mean that providers can give students due consideration and students are protected from pressures to accept the earliest offers they receive. 

In response to the pandemic, 2021 saw the movement of the previous 15 January equal consideration deadline (ECD) to the final Wednesday of January. In tandem with this, reject by default (RBD) and decline by default (DBD) deadlines were also consolidated and moved. 

Three options for future cycles were developed with input from across the sector:

  • Maintain current January ECD (last Wednesday of January) and May RBD (second Wednesday). 
  • Move January ECD to second Wednesday in January, and RBD to first Wednesday in May. 
  • Move January ECD to third Wednesday in December, and RBD to last Wednesday in April. 

UCAS sent out the consultation to providers, advisers, and key stakeholder groups, and collected feedback on the options via a survey, where participants were asked to rank the three variations in order of preference. A 'Do not support' option was also included, along with a free text box for any additional comments, which were analysed for sentiment.

Student sentiment had been previously captured via UCAS’ Student Mindset work; students were also given the opportunity to complete the survey. 

What was the outcome?

2,000 responses were received with option 1 – maintain current dates – being the preferred outcome.

There was limited appetite for moving the ECD before Christmas, with 53% choosing the 'Do not support' option. This was mainly driven by concern for applicants – comments mentioned particular groups of students needing more time to make choices, for example those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, and about all students needing time to make an informed choice about their options, for example by using mock exam results to guide their thinking. Some comments highlighted that moving the deadline before Christmas might mean that applicants have to wait longer for decisions due to traditional closures at providers.

Responses to the consultation clearly demonstrate an appetite for a wider review of the admissions system to futureproof it and meet the needs of all customers – UCAS will launch this in 2024, building on the comments and themes that have arisen from this and other forums.

How can I find out more?

Please contact reform@ucas.ac.uk with any questions.