Leading Article: Crisis in university applications

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The Independent Online

There are various reasons why university applications have risen by 22.2 per cent this year. Some are technical, such as changes to the deadline for some art and design courses and the phasing out of the nursing diploma. But, even allowing for these changes, there is no doubt that applications have increased significantly. It is something to be celebrated, a welcome sign that aspirations and attainment are on the rise.

The problem is that, with a cap on places and with universities that over-recruit facing fines, many would-be students will be disappointed. But it is early days and students haven't even sat their A-levels yet, so we should not be too gloomy too soon. Even so, the omens are not good. Last year there were the same fears that the demand for places would cut the proportion of young people from disadvantaged homes going to university. This didn't happen and the share of students from poorer homes actually went up.

Universities are going to have to be especially vigilant to make sure this doesn't happen in 2010. And ministers would do well to heed the suggestions of people such as Professor David Green, who runs the University of Worcester, and is calling for fines for universities that over-recruit to be scrapped. He also wants the government to introduce discounts for early fee or student loan repayments. Over to you, Lord Mandelson.