Hard-up students try switching to local universities

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STUDENTS ARE trying to switch to their local universities at the last minute because of financial worries, universities reported yesterday.

They said that students who had achieved the grades to go to universities distant from their homes were having second thoughts because of the introduction of tuition fees and the replacement of half the student grant with a loan. The requests for transfer pose problems for universities which still have vacancies during the present clearing process which matches students to spare places.

Students are bound contractually to go to universities at which they have accepted conditional offers if they gain the necessary A-level grades.

Kathy Dunn, assistant registrar for lifelong learning at Teesside University, said: "A new development this year has been the steady increase in the number of students asking whether they can transfer to Teesside because it is their local university - after getting grades acceptable to their first or second choice university. I believe this is clearly the result of the changes in student finance."

Hertfordshire University, which is putting on a special bus service for North London students, reported a similar increase in people wanting to transfer to their local university. Penny O'Callaghan, assistant registrar for admissions, said: "Most of the people requesting release are giving finance as the reason."

Kingston University was more sceptical. A spokeswoman said that there had been no obvious increase in local clearing applicants. "People who are trying to get out of offers are talking about costs. We don't know whether they are just using it as an excuse."

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said that students who wanted to turn down firm offers were obliged to withdraw their applications and apply again next year.

The proportion of university students living at home has been increasing steadily for several years.

By yesterday, Ucas figures showed that 235,591 of the 330,000 or so university places had been filled compared with 227,442 at the same time last year.

Friday's list of top comprehensives at A-level included Didcot Girls' School in Oxfordshire. The results were in fact those for Didcot Sixth Forms, a combination of Didcot Girls' School and St Birinus.

Inside: Official Ucas guide