University applications soar ahead of tuition fee rise
Record numbers of would-be students are applying to start university this autumn, official figures show.
Some 633,811 people have submitted applications to begin courses in September, an extra 12,914 compared to the same point last year - a rise of 2.1% according to statistics published by the admissions service UCAS.
The figures are likely to fuel concerns that tens of thousands of applicants will be left disappointed this year.
In 2010, 487,300 people won a university place and a similar number are expected to be available this year.
The rise in applicants is likely to be down to potential students hoping to start their degrees this year to avoid the tuition fee hike, and high levels of student debt.
This year is the last students in England will pay fees of around £3,000, before they are increased to a maximum of £9,000 in 2012.
Today's UCAS figures, from a snapshot taken on April 18, show that the biggest increases have been from students aged 19 (up 6.2%), 20 (up 4.8%) and 21 (up 4.5%).
The statistics also reveal that while the numbers of UK applicants have only risen 1.3%, more would-be students from other EU and non EU countries are applying to study in the UK.
In total, applications from EU students are up 7.2%, and from other countries they are up 6.3%.
The biggest rises are from Hong Kong (17.1%) and Malaysia (12.3%), the figures show.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union said: "There is still considerable demand for university, despite the mess the Government is making with its fees policy.
"Record numbers of students missed out on a university place last year because the Government refused to fund sufficient places and we have seen nothing to reassure us that the problem is not set to continue.
"We have real concerns that, because of the Government's failure to do its maths and the threat of fines for over recruitment hanging over universities' heads, they won't risk taking on too many students."
Aaron Porter, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: "As students considering a gap year start to see the full impact of the Government's rushed tuition fees fiasco it is no surprise that applications are rising, especially in the face of spiralling youth unemployment to which the Government has no response.
"The Government should be investing in higher education, not letting Ministers threaten to slash places in the future to cover up the repercussions of their incompetence at a time when they are providing no alternatives for young people.
"The bigger question remains in 2012, how many prospective students will be deterred by the Government's reckless and unpopular trebling of fees?"
Universities Minister David Willetts said: "Going to university has always been a competitive process and not all who apply are accepted. Despite this we do understand how frustrating it is for young people who wish to go to university and are unable to find a place. We are opening up other routes into a successful career, including part-time university study."
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