A record number of students applied for university places this year but unions warned funding cuts would leave many disappointed.
The university application service UCAS said that as of late January, the number of full-time undergraduate applications had jumped 22.9 percent to 570,556 compared with 2009 - the fourth annual rise in a row.
"It is clear that once again we have seen a significant rise in applications which leaves us in no doubt that, as last year, this cycle will be very challenging and competitive for applicants and the higher education sector generally," UCAS Chief Executive, Mary Curnock Cook, said in a statement.
"There has been a steady increase year on year since 2007, but this year shows a sizeable leap in applications."
Overseas and mature students made up a large chunk of the numbers, as did deadlines and administrative changes - especially in nursing and art and design courses.
A record 2 million students are studying at university, 390,000 more than in 1997, the government said.
Applications from British residents rose 22.1 percent, while those from overseas students, especially Ireland, Germany, China and Lithuania, were 28.7 percent higher at 71,105.
Students over the age of 25 lodged a 63.4 percent increase in applications, with those aged between 21 and 24 notching up a 44.8 percent rise.
Another contributory factor was the 46,000 students who re-applied because they had withdrawn or had been unsuccessful the year earlier - a rise of 45.5 percent on 2009.
Some were looking to retrain during the economic downturn, so they would be ready for the upturn, UCAS suggested.
Unions said a cap on funded places and fines for universities who over-recruit would leave many applicants disappointed.
The University and College Union (UCU) also said students fortunate enough to secure a place faced increased class sizes, less contact with lecturers and record levels of debt.
"You cannot make savage funding cuts without serious consequences," said UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt.
More than 500 million pounds in cuts from university budgets were unveiled by the government this month. Precise figures for each university will be released on 18 March.