University applications down by 8%
Ucas figures show there were 145,000 applications up to 19 November, compared with 158,000 at the same point last year and 182,000 the previous year.
A breakdown of the UK figure shows that in 2010 there were 141,000 applicants from England at this stage, compared with 108,000 this year.
The figures published for English applications run back to 2006, when applications were 113,000 - higher than at present.
Although smaller numbers, in Scotland - where Scottish students do not pay tuition fees - there has been a bigger year-on-year percentage drop than in England, falling by 10.5%.
There have also been smaller declines in Wales and Northern Ireland.
This will raise concerns among universities which have already reported unfilled places in the current year, as changes to funding and a more market-driven approach are introduced.
The Ucas figures, dating back to 2006, show the first fall in overseas applications, which have become financially very significant to universities in the UK.
There have been warnings about the impact of the high-profile case of London Metropolitan University being barred from recruiting overseas students - and concerns about difficulties over student visas.
A spokeswoman for the Business, Innovation and Skills department, said: "It is too early in this year's application cycle to drawn any firm conclusions. "Numbers are down across the devolved administrations and November has historically been a poor guide to changes in applications at the 15 January deadline."
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