The number of UK students applying to university has risen by almost 3% compared with last year, but is still down compared with before the tuition fee hike, official figures show.
Latest Ucas statistics show that 475,587 people have applied to start degree courses this autumn, up 13,080 - 2.8% - on the same point last year.
But the figures also show that applicant numbers have yet to recover to the levels seen in 2011, the year before tuition fees were trebled to a maximum of £9,000. Compared with 2011, applications are down 6.1%, an analysis of the statistics shows.
Applications from UK students are also down 4.8% on 2010, the Ucas statistics show. In England alone, 395,608 people have applied to start degree courses this autumn, up 3% on last year. But application rates among English students are still 7.2% lower than they were in 2011, and 6.1% lower than in 2010, an analysis of the figures suggests.
The Ucas snapshot, which looks at how many people had applied to university by the January 15 deadline, shows that overall, applications from all students, both home and abroad, are up by 3.5% on 2012, with 558,898 people applying. But this is down on 2011, when 583,546 students applied, and 2010, when there were 570,556 applications.
Last year saw a saw a sharp drop in the number of students applying to university amid the introduction of the tuition fee hike - those starting degree courses last autumn were the first to pay fees of up to £9,000.
Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said that the report was "encouraging, with no double-dip for applications". But Ms Curnock Cook did raise concerns about differences in applications from men and women. "There remains a stubborn gap between application rates for young men and young women," she said.
Taking into account changes in the population, the proportion of English 18-year-olds applying to university this year has risen by 1%, Ucas said. A breakdown of applicant numbers shows that in Scotland applications are up 2%, in Northern Ireland they are up 7.1% and in Wales they are down 2.1%.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of university group million+, welcomed the "modest" rise in applications, but warned that numbers had not yet recovered. She added: "There is a long way to recovery and the Government needs to do much more to promote the value of higher education."
Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, David Cameron said: "After all of the concerns that were expressed about the new way of paying for university finance reducing the number of students applying to university, the number of 18-year-olds has actually gone up. It is now level with where it was in 2011, which is higher than any year under the last Labour government."