Thousands to miss out on university places

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Tens of thousands of students will be denied university places this summer following a funding freeze and a surge in applications, figures will show today.

Data to be published by Ucas is expected to show that applications to UK universities has risen by 9.7 per cent in the last year.

It is thought the record rise has been fuelled by unemployed workers, and those facing an uncertain future, returning to education to improving their skills during the recession.

But the Government has capped the number of additional places available at universities in England for the next academic year, so no more than 10,000 extra students can be admitted. This was partly due to a £200 million shortfall in the budget of the now defunct Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

It is thought that just 3,000 of these extra places are for full time first year students.

It was originally suggested that up to 30,000 people will miss out on university places this summer, but it now looks likely that the number will be even higher.

The National Union of Students has previously estimated that a least 28,000 students will be refused a place, and last month, university think tank Million+ estimated that it could be up to 40,000 people.

Just 16,000 places could be available in clearing this August, Million+ said. Last summer 43,000 places were filled through clearing.

The Ucas figures, from a snapshot taken at the end of June, are expected to show that around 592,000 people have applied to start courses at UK institutions this autumn, up from around 540,000 at the same point last year- around 52,000 extra applicants.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union said: "We know the power that education has to transform lives and welcome the encouraging rise in applications.

"During these tough economic times we need to be doing everything we can to support educators and students. The Prime Minister boasted recently that he would not allow education to become a victim of the recession.

"Unfortunately, the government is yet to do anything to suggest his statement was not merely rhetoric."

Shadow Universities minister David Willetts said ministers were "sleepwalking into a crisis".

He said: "Young people are becoming the biggest victims of this recession. The number of young people not in education, employment or training is already at record levels and now we are on course to have a record number of young people refused a university place."

Universities minister David Lammy said: "There are record numbers of students currently in higher education - 300,000 more than in 1997. And this year we expect that there will be 40,000 more accepted applicants than just three years ago.

"Students who get the grades to meet their offer will secure a place at university this summer, but we will continue to work with the sector to support those who do not and to manage increased demand."