UCAS Journey to a Million: Impacts on the UK Labour Market

Upcoming Lightcast and UCAS collaboration on graduate labour market trends

Published on Apr 24, 2023

Updated on Aug 25, 2023

Written by Mariana Marques

Based on UCAS’ projections, we will see up to a million students applying for Higher Education by 2030. One million is a large number, and a considerable jump from the over 700,000 Higher Education applicants registered in 2021. So how does this impact the education sector and labour market? 

Lightcast has joined a number of high profile contributors, from government to Think Tanks, from political figures to education groups, on new research from UCAS looking into the implications of this increase in students from a number of different angles. Journey to a Million, which is conducted in partnership with Unite Students and Knight Frank, is being published throughout March to June, with a final report to be released in the summer. 

Lightcast’s contribution, to be published in May, will look at current and projected UK graduate labour market trends, asking the question of what this might mean in terms of the skills of tomorrow, and the implications of this for both universities and graduates.

In this article, we explore what the Journey to a Million is all about, and give you an insider look into the upcoming research.

What is the Journey to a Million?

We can now expect to see up to one million Higher Education (level 4 and above) applicants in a single year by 2030. UCAS’ Journey to a Million is a national debate that explores this projection in more detail and informs and prepares Higher Education providers for this trend. Within the collection of essays and other initiatives that will be launched, the key topics include challenges that arise from this projection, as well as new opportunities for education providers. 

As Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, states in her recent note, these projected figures present challenges and opportunities not just for the Education sector but for the wider national economy too. Therefore, ensuring that we prepare for this by supporting students and understanding the requirements of the graduate labour market will be crucial. 

UCAS puts a strong emphasis on supporting students on their application stages and ensuring they get a highly personalised experience. One of the tools UCAS offers is its Career Quiz, powered by Lightcast, which enables applicants to get an idea of suitable careers, based on their likes, dislikes and personality traits, and the courses that could lead them there. 

UCAS Career Coach platform

How the student market changed in the last two decades

According to UCAS, in 1994, there were 400,000 applicants to Higher Education. By 2005, this number increased to half a million. While the growth has been slow and steady since the beginning of the millennium, the pandemic further accelerated this rise. Most recently, between 2019 and 2022, UCAS noted 60,000 more applicants. 

There has been a slight decline in January 2023, with the cost of living crisis named as a potential cause. Yet, the Journey to a Million projections show that the trend will continue to be upward. 

Why are there increasingly more Higher Education applicants?

To reach this figure of one million applications, UCAS used various data sources, including the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and World Bank, to study metrics such as population sizes, growth trends, and demographic information. 

One of the key drivers of this projection is the increase in the 18-year-old population. The ONS forecasts that there could be nearly 900,000 18-year-olds by 2030. Plus, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) expects the number of mobile students to reach up to 8 million in 2030. Lastly, UCAS projects that the number of non-EU applicants will rise by a whopping 75.6%, and the proportion of English students achieving Level 3 qualifications is likely to continue to increase based on past trends. 

These are just some of the stats and figures behind the big projection. However, no projection is bulletproof, so it’s worth noting that there may be challenges and unexpected events along the way. These could be due to, for instance, changes in policies or an economic downturn. 

What does this mean for the graduate labour market?

More Higher Education applicants means that more graduates entering the workforce. But does employer demand match graduate supply? This is one of the questions Lightcast answers in our upcoming essay. 

By analysing past growth trends of graduate-level occupations, we can broadly project where this figure is headed, and gain a better understanding of how employer demand will be like in 2030. For instance, we noted that graduate jobs grew at a faster rate than non-graduate jobs (11.9% compared to 9%). 

Using Lightcast’s Job Postings Analytics, we can also analyse the most in-demand occupations for graduates and those that have grown faster over the last years to understand where graduate opportunities may lie in the future. 

What Careers Will the Class of 2030 Aspire To?

Read the Full Article

Going into an even deeper level, it’s crucial to understand the skills that are relevant for these occupations to improve the employability of future graduates. Even if headline graduate supply keeps up with demand - or vice versa - is that supply/demand relationship aligned? This will be a key topic for Higher Education providers as they take the important role of preparing students for the workforce, meeting employer demand, and boosting economic growth. 

Commenting on the impacts of Journey to a Million, Clare Marchant stated:

"We have highlighted the challenges and opportunities presented by increasing demand this decade, with up to a million higher education applicants in a single year in 2030. Ultimately this is an economic challenge as much as an education one and will have profound impacts on the current and future shape of the UK. If we do not collectively act today, we risk missing a significant economic opportunity, whilst also leaving a generation behind. We seek, by igniting the discussion, to play our part in making the Journey to a Million a successful one."

Keep your eyes peeled for our research that’s launching in May, where we explore these trends and figures in detail, and check out the UCAS Journey to a Million page to keep updated with all the upcoming content. Meanwhile, if you have any questions regarding our data and how it can help you solve your labour market challenges, do get in touch with our team below. 

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