College hopefuls rush for last places

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The Independent Online
Late applications to university have risen by 50 per cent so far compared with last year as would-be students seek to snap up the last free higher education places. The rise was logged yesterday by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, UCAS, whose "clearing" system matches university applicants to unfilled places.

UCAS had forecast a flood of extra applications as qualified candidates opted to try for university this year to avoid the introduction of tuition fees and abolition of grants, being phased in from September 1998. However, despite initial alarm that thousands of aspiring students might be left disappointed this year amid the scramble for places, the system is so far absorbing the extra numbers. So far 303,800 students have been placed for courses starting in October, including 34,100 who applied through clearing. UCAS estimates that some 310,000 places are available in UK universities.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) yesterday said it expected the system to accommodate all suitably qualified candidates who had so far applied through clearing, despite this year's increase. The number of late applicants has risen by around 6,500 compared with this time last year to 19,755.

English universities alone had some 2,000 places spare in 1996-7, and the rest of the extra would be squeezed in as long as they were prepared to be flexible over their choice of course and institution, HEFCE said.

Under a government-imposed freeze on student numbers, universities are penalised if they exceed targets by more than 2 per cent.

However, Paul McClure, UCAS head of operations, predicted the number of extra late applicants would continue to rise steadily.

Parents willing to help meet the bill

Most parents are prepared to contribute towards their children's university tuition fees - a marked shift in attitude over the last six years, writes Judith Judd.

Figures from a MORI poll released today show that 83 per cent of parents think they or their children should foot at least part of the bill. In a similar poll in 1991 that applied to only 38 per cent of parents.

MORI, commissioned by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, interviewed 2,008 adults immediately after the Dearing review of higher education was published in July, recommending a pounds 1000-a-year tuition fee. The poll shows that 17 per cent of parents said they were not prepared to pay. It will be published prior to a conference on Tuesday organised by the committee and sponsored by The Independent, looking at the impact of fees on universities.