One in three students may lose out on university

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Nearly 250,000 applicants could be turned away by universities due to a 20% spike in applications, as school students scramble for degree courses ahead of tuition fees rising.

In the month before Christmas, applications were up by 23,000 on the same time the previous year – a rise of more than 20 per cent, bringing the number of completed applications for the month to an all-time high of more than 344,000 at this stage of the process.

Many are cancelling gap years in an effort to beat the rise in tuition fees, which could go up from £3,290 a year to £9,000 from 2012.

School-leavers are also competing for places with young people attempting to avoid the dole queue and tens of thousands of teenagers who missed out on courses last autumn.

In addition, applications by students from elsewhere in the EU have risen by 7.9 per cent, from 14,962 to 16,143. These students count towards the strict cap on university places imposed by the Government – putting them in direct competition with applicants from the UK.

Students who get on a course this year will pay the current, lower fees for the duration of their degree. But student leaders have warned that ‘even more well-qualified applicants look set to have the door slammed in their faces’ this year.

Applications for courses starting this autumn have already leapt by 2.5 per cent to 344,064 – an extra 8,269 students on this time last year, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

There was a 21.6 per cent increase in applications in September compared to the same time the previous year – an extra 2,380 candidates.

Two months later, when the Government announced its tuition fee plans, there was a 20.4 per cent rise in applications, representing an extra 23,477 students.

Applications have rocketed by almost 8 per cent among 19-year-olds and 12 per cent among those aged 20, suggesting a sharp rise in the numbers reapplying after being rejected in 2010.

But the Government has revealed that there will be a freeze on university places this year and 10,000 fewer next year. Universities have been warned that over-recruitment will result in fines of up to £3,750 per person over the limit. They were forced to turn away record numbers last year, when 688,310 applied. Only 479,057 were accepted, meaning 209,253 did not get places. Ucas stressed that a proportion of these included those who dropped out of the process.

If the current 2.5 per cent increase in applications continues into the summer, the total trying for a university place will hit 705,500 this year. This could mean almost 226,500 missing out.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: "The number of applications to university have continued to rise this year and will include many of the up to 200,000 applicants who were shut out of university last year by the freeze in places."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, added: "The increase in applications, on top of record numbers of people missing out last year, would prompt most Governments to make extra places available.

"Yet our Government seems intent on ignoring the global trend of increasing access to university, which will see thousands of applicants denied the chance to fulfil their potential."

School Leadership Today
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