Rise in number of university applicants

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The Independent Online
MORE applicants will compete for fewer places at university this year, according to figures released last night. The Government's decision to rein back on the expansion of higher education will mean that 10,000 fewer students can go to university this year, but to date 10,000 more have applied.

At the same time, further education colleges are expanding rapidly, ensuring ever-higher demand for university places, separate figures from the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) have revealed. But the number of students sponsored by employers has dropped.

By the closing date for university applications in December 1993, 340,000 people had applied, an increase of 3 per cent since the same time the previous year, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Up to 90,000 late applicants are expected to come forward in the next six months to compete for a total of around 260,000 places.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, said because students could now apply to an increased number of universities, the number of applications had risen by 14 per cent.

'There are more pupils doing better at GCSE, there are more people staying on in the sixth form, there are more people doing better at A-level and there is a broadening of the base of access to groups of people who might not previously have been applicants to higher education. It may be that more people will be disappointed,' he said.

Mr Higgins's view was supported by the FEFC's figures, which showed student growth of 5 per cent this year. However, while the number of full-time students in FE has grown by 47,000, the number of students sent on part-time courses by their employers has fallen by 32,000. In 1992-3, 71 per cent of 16- year-olds stayed on in full-time education and a further 8 per cent went to college part-time.

Sir William Stubbs, chief executive of the funding council, said the figures showed a continuing success story for the colleges, which were given independence from local authorities in April 1993.

However, while individuals, both young and mature, thought qualifications were increasingly important, companies were less likely to send their employees on courses.

'Where the brakes seem to be on is inside business and industry. Why this is so is not clear, but the council and the Employment Department will be conducting research later this year to provide a better understanding of the underlying reasons,' he said.