Hundreds of thousands of students will be turned away from universities this autumn as institutions cut and freeze places, it was reported today.
Almost seven students are battling for every spot, while universities are tightening their entry criteria.
Nearly three in four institutions are cutting or freezing the numbers of places they are offering, according to a survey conducted by The Daily Telegraph.
It comes as record numbers apply to start higher education this September, many of whom are mature learners who have decided to return to studying due to the recession.
According to Ucas figures, as of the end of May there had been 640,760 applications, a rise of 77,758 (13.8%) on last year.
The record rise in applications is placing universities, who are facing multimillion-pound Government cuts, under increasing pressure.
It was announced last month that the sector must save £200 million this year, on top of savings totalling around £1 billion over the next few years.
The Government has pledged to create 10,000 extra places for this autumn - the majority of which will go to science and maths-based courses.
But Universities Minister David Willetts admitted last week there will be "intense pressure" on places, adding: "There simply isn't the capacity to meet such a surge in demand."
The Telegraph's survey obtained data from a third of Britain's 160 universities and higher education colleges.
The findings suggest that applications are actually up 14.6% compared with the same time last year. This could mean that across all universities there may be 93,000 more applications than in 2009.
Around three in 10 (31%) of universities are cutting the number of places for British and EU students, the survey found, while a further four in 10 (40%) are looking to freeze numbers, the survey found.
Professor Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of Salford University, told the newspaper: "A silent issue in the election campaign was the plight of up to 200,000 British school-leavers who will not be going to university in September this year.
"As with the rest of their generation, they have been encouraged to aspire for a university place. In previous years, each would have been adequately qualified for one or more offers.
"What is more, this situation will probably persist for the next two to three years, resulting in a lost generation of some half a million young British adults being deprived of a higher education qualification."
Professor David Green, vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester, said: "My earlier prediction that there will be around 220,000 unhappy people will be about right. Of those, about 100,000 will be pretty well qualified and motivated students who would have been accepted in previous years."