5% drop in Ucas applications by Northern Irish students
University applications made by Northern Irish students have fallen by 5%, according to figures from the Universities and College Admissions Service (Ucas).
By January 2017, there were 19,470 university applicants.
This compared to 20,400 by the same period in 2016.
However, the proportion of 18-year-old NI university applicants remains the highest in the UK.
Almost half of 18-year-olds in Northern Ireland (47.5%) have applied to start a university course this autumn.
That contrasts with 37% in England, 33% in Scotland and 32% in Wales.
The main percentage falls in university application rates in Northern Ireland have been among older students.
Although the numbers involved are relatively small, there has been a 21% decrease in 2017 in the numbers of 25-29 year-old applicants.
Among the over-30s there has been a 12% decline in applications.
The Ucas admissions figures reflect the January application deadline for university courses starting in September 2017.
They also show that many more women apply to university in Northern Ireland than men.
For instance, more than 55% of all 18-year-old women (6,580) have applied this year, compared to under 40% (4,920) of 18-year-old men.
Veterinary Sciences and Computer Sciences were among the popular subjects that saw the biggest drop in applications.
Across the UK, the fall in applications in England of 6% has been three times greater than in Scotland at 2%, while applications from Wales fell most, by 7%.
However, there could be an upside for those who are seeking places this year, as long as they are open to taking a place at university across the Irish Sea.
Universities in England do not have their student numbers capped, meaning they are likely to be competing to attract students.
Ucas chief Mary Curnock Cook said this "tough recruitment environment for universities" would mean "unprecedented choice and opportunity for applicants".
NUS-USI President Fergal McFerran said the figures were "troubling".
"As we face an Assembly election in a matter of weeks I would urge all of our politicians to think carefully about whether their priorities reflect the hopes and aspirations of our citizens.
"Our young people are our greatest asset and we desperately need stable, transparent, devolved Government to deliver for them," he added.