Rising numbers of students are applying to start university courses this year, according to new figures.
In total, 659,030 people submitted applications by the end of June - up four per cent on the same point last year, data published by the admissions service Ucas shows.
June 30 is the final deadline for would-be students to apply through the main admissions scheme. After that point their applications go straight into clearing, the annual summer process in which universities and colleges fill any places they have remaining.
The latest statistics show that England, Scotland and Wales have all seen a rise in applications (3%, 2% and 3% respectively) while in Northern Ireland the numbers have remained static compared to last June.
Applications from other EU students are up five per cent, while those from overseas students outside the EU have risen by six per cent.
The figures also show that, in general, more women have applied than men.
Professor Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, said: "These figures are excellent news. Applicants are clearly recognising the advantages of higher education, and are embarking on a potentially life-changing journey.
"At the same time, our economy and society will continue to benefit from a consistent supply of highly-qualified graduates."
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said: "It is encouraging to see the numbers applying to university increasing again this year, demonstrating the widespread recognition of the importance of a university degree and the positive impact it has on people's lives and the economy.
"The opportunities afforded by higher education are not just there for young people, but also for people of any age. It is therefore particularly good to see an increase of nearly 9,000 more mature students compared to last year. We are a knowledge-based economy and rely increasingly on people to develop their skills throughout their lives."