The figures for April show an increase of 2.5% against the same point last year – but application levels are still down compared with 2010 and 2011.
Applications had fallen sharply in 2012 with the introduction of higher fees.
But applications now seem to be stabilising, allaying fears of a long-term, accelerating decline.
These latest figures from Ucas show a pattern of slight recovery – up by about 15,000 applications to about 602,000.
This includes increases in applications from England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland and a decline in Wales.
Despite fears about overseas students being deterred by concerns over student visas, applications have risen from students outside the European Union and also from within the European Union.
But there are warnings that despite this recovery, numbers are still down on two and three years ago, before tuition fees were increased.
“The small increase in the number of applications to university from those wishing to study full time in 2013 is very welcome given the significance of graduates to our economic and social future and the benefits of a degree to an individual,” said Prof Michael Gunn, chairman of the Million+ group of new universities.
“However, there is a 7% decline in applications when compared with 2010, the last year when the recent funding changes did not impact upon recruitment.”
Despite such caution, the current level of applications are running considerably above the figures at this point for 2009.
And application figures for Scotland, where students do not pay tuition fees, have followed a similar pattern of falling and rising again.
Universities, which were left with empty places last year, will be watching carefully to see if this latest increase is the beginning of a return to rising applications or whether they will plateau at the current level.
The overall figures include all types of applicants, but when 18-year-old school-leavers are taken in isolation, these also show a slight rise in applying to university, up by 0.6% compared with the same point last year.
The main deadline for applications is in January, but students can still apply until the end of June and be included in the “main scheme” for admissions, if universities have places available.
Universities Minister David Willetts said: “These encouraging figures show the desire to study at university is strong. Higher education remains a good long-term investment that transforms lives.
“The rise in applications indicates that potential students understand how the new student finance system works. They do not have to pay fees upfront, there is more financial support for poorer families, and loan repayments will be lower for everyone once they start earning.”