Thousands of people have already applied to university in the hope of securing a place before tuition fees are increased, official figures show.
Data published by UCAS, the university admissions service, reveals that 344,064 people had submitted their applications by 20 December to start courses this autumn.
This is a 2.5 per cent increase on the same period the previous year, and means there are around an extra 8,000 people fighting for the same number of places as last year.
The figures suggest that plans to triple tuition fees at English universities from 2012 are fuelling a rush to apply for this year. Those who enter university this autumn will be the last to avoid the hike.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "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."
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