Planning courses attracted 2,985 applicants by mid January, down 18.7 per cent on the same point in 2008. This was despite an overall increase of 7.8 per cent in applications for university courses of all kinds.
University of Glasgow planning school senior lecturer Chris Leishman said the decline is part of a shift from undergraduate to postgraduate planning training.
"We only teach postgraduate courses and I think that people now choose to study geography, business or whatever and then specialise at this level," he explained.
"Who can really choose a career at 17 or 18? When I left school in the early 1980s, I had to specialise early but that is less the case now. I have seen undergraduate departments get smaller as postgraduate ones have grown."
University of Reading school of real estate and planning admissions tutor Vanessa Combeer said: "Applications are down around 20 per cent. We usually have up to 600 applications for 90 places. In this climate, people could be going for something that they think is more certain to lead to a job."
RTPI lifelong learning officer Jacqui Ward pointed out that the UCAS figures are interim and "our courses will accept students right up to the start date". She added that the growth of postgraduate courses has led to some planning schools shifting resources out of undergraduate education.