Rise in EU student numbers as 100,000 Britons miss out

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The Independent Online

The biggest rise is from Lithuania, up 416.1 per cent from 48 to 248. From Poland applications soared by 99.3 per cent to 827. The number from Latvia is up 244.2 per cent to 148. In Britain, 110,042 youngsters are still seeking a place.

Professor Michael Sterling, the vice-chancellor of Birmingham University, and chairman of the Russell Group of universities, which represents the country's top 18 research institutions, indicates UK students will find competition for places harder this year.

Overall, the Ucas figures show 358,315 applicants have had places at university confirmed, compared with 331,027 at a similar point last year. This includes a rise of 8.4 per cent to 266,286 in the number of home students under 21 accepted for places. The figures also show an overall rise of 3.8 per cent in applicants from outside the UK, who face full fees.

This is despite a fall of 21.3 per cent from China, which is boosting its own university provision and also has several UK universities setting up campuses in the country. The biggest rise is from Nigeria, with an 85 per cent increase to 2,882.

Overall, Ucas records more than 500,000 applying for university courses this autumn. Of these, 110,042 are still seeking courses through the clearing system. Student leaders say many of those are opting to forgo a gap year to start university before top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year from next September. But they could have been exempted from the fees if they had announced they intended to defer taking up a placement before 1 August.

Today Ucas opens its doors for the first time to youngsters wanting to apply for university in September 2006. Ministers say a wide range of aid will be available to them, with grants of up to £2,700 a year for living costs and bursaries of at least £300 for the top-up fee for students from poor homes. Loans are also available for students to avoid the top-up fee until graduation.

Bill Rammell, the minister for Higher Education, said: "There are a lot of myths about student finance. Some young people may be reluctant to go to university because of the financial impact. But there is more help available than they might realise."