Debt fears see thousands pull out of university race

Thousands of young people gave up their scramble for a university place yesterday as the search for the few remaining vacancies intensified.

UCAS, the university and college admissions service, revealed that nearly 8,000 would-be students had withdrawn from the clearing scheme during the past 24 hours.

About 50,000 others rejected offers made to them – possibly from universities lower down their list after they had been turned down by their top choices, a spokeswoman said.

Students who have pulled out of the race altogether cited the prospect of rising debts or being left with a limited choice of courses as their main reasons for doing so. One survey last week, by student guide Push.co.uk, estimated the average debt incurred by students going to university this autumn would be £24,700.

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, added: "Some of these people will decide to re-apply next year and I think that's the right advice for people who have got very good qualifications who perhaps haven't got the right combination in their choices and haven't got the right offer."

Meanwhile, figures released yesterday showed that 190,183 young people were seeking a place through clearing – with a further 81,915 still awaiting a decision from universities. This is nearly 50,000 more than at the same time last year.

A total of 4,083 students won a university place through clearing in the 24 hours after receiving their results, bringing the total number of accepted applicants to 394,436.

Ms Curnock Cook said she expected more than 150,000 people to be turned down in total. The Universities minister, David Willetts, said those who did not get the offer of a university place had other good options including apprenticeships and college places.

"There are more university places than ever before and already 380,000 applicants have got confirmed places at university," he added. "For those who have sadly not done as well as they hoped, there are places available in clearing."

However, Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said that a generation of students were "facing a very uncertain future".

A poll of universities by The Independent revealed a growing number putting up the "house full" sign yesterday. At least 22 had either not entered clearing or had filled up all their places within 24 hours.

A spokesman for De Montfort University said: "By the time you publish we won't have any left unless a few places come back into clearing next week from students not confirming verbal offers before the time limit."

Thames Valley University, which had up to 300 places available through clearing yesterday, had made 155 offers by the end of the day.

"Yesterday our 90 call lines were at full capacity after 15 seconds," said Lynn Grimes, the university's director of marketing and recruitment. "In all, 2,500 calls got through – significantly more tried to get through but were unsuccessful."

Wolverhampton University said it had received a "record breaking" 20,000 calls on the first day of clearing and had now filled all its places.

For those left in the hunt, there was still a chance of getting into university even if they did not achieve top grades. Bedfordshire University said that although places were "running out fast", the minimum requirement was 200 points at A-level – the equivalent of two C grades and an E. However, these would be earmarked for students from different backgrounds.

At Buckingham University, a private institution, around 70 places were left through clearing; its minimum qualification was 260 UCAS points (a B grade and two Cs).

A spokeswoman for the university said: "As a private institution, the university of Buckingham is free of government funding and cuts. We therefore have no cap on numbers."

Bolton University said it still had about 100 places left through clearing but said it was "close to target" and expected to fill all its places by the start of the new academic year.

At Queen Mary University, London, there were only 30 places left and candidate would need three A grades.

Case Studies

'I chose to take a job rather than study'

Das Bikramjit Gakhal, 18

The A, two Bs and a C he received in his A-level results would have been enough to take up places he had been offered at two universities. But instead, Das, from Leicester, has decided to start a job as a trainee auditor in September. He said : "I didn't think university was necessary for the job and also the average dent for a student was £25,000." He added: "I was told I could qualify for a degree afterwards."

'My four A*s weren't enough for Cambridge'

Michael Duong, 18

He failed to get into Cambridge despite receiving four A* grades in his A-levels. The teenager from Bethnal Green, east London, who took his exams at City and Islington sixth-form college, did not get the necessary marks in two specialist maths papers he sat for the university. He said he was "disappointed" after calling Cambridge to find out whether his four A*s would be enough. He now has a place at University College London.

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