Thousands of students planning to take a gap year in 2011 before starting university will be hit with the new regime of inflated tuition fees.
Ministers have confirmed that a loophole in the new system, which will see fees almost triple from their current level of £3,290 per year from 2012, will affect those who opted to defer the start of their course.
Many of those affected are now scrabbling to cancel their year abroad to avoid being lumbered with extra debt running into tens of thousands of pounds. University places were already set to be in short supply next year.
"The new tuition charges we are proposing for the 2012-13 academic year will apply to all students starting university in that year, includingthose applying to go to university in 2011-12 who have deferred entry until 2012-13," said the Universities minister, David Willetts.
Universities have already started to warn their future students. Around 500 prospective undergraduates who had requested to begin their courses in 2012 have been contacted by Oxford to ask if they would now like to start a year earlier instead.
Gap year companies criticised the move as unfair. "It is disappointing that a number of students will now feel they are unable to take a gap year," said Anna Walker, from Africa, Asia and Americas Venture. "Many taking a year out use the time to really think about how they want to use their time in higher education. We fear this will also rush people into choosing the wrong university and the wrong course."
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