International Law School Applications campaign 2022: insights and analysis

30th August 2023
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Nick Titchener

Managing Partner

In Brief

Using UCAS data, we found that applications from EU students had dropped 40% from 2020 to 2021. However, during the same period, almost half of all law course applicants were from outside the EU.

In the wake of Brexit, we were keen to discover how the composition of international law students in the UK had changed. 

The data confirmed that the UK continues to be regarded as a leading destination for those wishing to study law. And with a shortage of legal professionals in the UK, it’s hoped that many international law graduates will stay here to practise law.


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UCAS data shows almost half of all applicants are from outside of the EU while EU students drop by 40%

UK universities have attracted a record number of non-EU students applying to study both law-only and combination courses in the last year, a freedom of information request has revealed. 

The number of non-EU students applying to study law – including criminal, land and family law – at UK universities has increased by 238% over the last decade. The number of overseas applicants for combination law courses, such as social studies with law or law with business, also rose sharply – by 133%.

The data, sourced from UCAS and collated by London criminal defence solicitors Lawtons, details the number of applicants to study all law courses at UK universities. The analysis also highlighted the increasing diversity of demographics entering the legal industry in the UK, as well as the specific courses being applied for.

Law courses made up 9% of all applications in 2021, with almost 1 in 10 applicants applying for law-related courses, whether single or combined.

Clare Marchant, chief executive of UCAS, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that competition for university places is growing, with statistics showing a 4% rise in applicants in 2021 compared to 2020. Courses such as law, nursing, computing and teaching were increasing in popularity due to their obvious career paths, she said*. 

Non-EU students replacing EU students 

It has been reported that the UK’s university sector has recovered strongly following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the number of incoming non-EU students currently 38% higher than pre-pandemic levels**. 

EU student numbers have, meanwhile, dropped. Applications to study all law courses from EU students have plummeted by a staggering 40% over the course year, falling from 22,255 in 2020 to 13,145 in 2021. A combination of pandemic-induced border controls and Brexit complications have doubtlessly played their part.

Female law students continue to outnumber male applicants

UCAS data shows that over two-thirds of all law course applicants this academic year are female, highlighting a 12% increase across all law-related courses. This number has been steadily increasing for years, now reaching the stage where just 31% (48,065) of law course applicants in 2021 were men, while 69% (107,085) were women. Comparing the data to a decade ago, male applications have only risen by 1.9%, as opposed to 41% in female applications.

Nick Titchener, director at Lawtons Solicitors, said:

“The demand for legal professionals in the UK is increasing two-fold. Recent reports from BCL Legal highlight that amid a shortage of professionals, firms are beginning to offer legal graduates salaries starting from £147,000. It is fantastic to see so many overseas students applying to study law in the UK since the economy has reopened. 

“It is essential for prospective applicants to keep an open mind when pursuing a career in law. It is important to do your research to ensure you understand the qualifications required for the specific position you want. As well as this, you should identify any relevant work experience opportunities that will help you emphasise your commitment to a career in law, such as holiday schemes, mini-pupillages, marshalling or pro bono work. 

“The legal industry is competitive yet rewarding and students applying to study in the UK will, in time, help the industry prosper in years to come”.

Dr Adrienne Barnett, senior lecturer in Law at Brunel University, said:

“International students bring a vibrant and diverse community to our campuses, which is immensely valuable for both home and overseas law students. UK universities and the legal professions benefit from the unique perspectives and talent of overseas students, particularly as our law schools are increasingly decolonising their curriculums. Overseas law graduates will, in turn, help to diversify the profession.”

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