Education & Family

University 'denied to thousands'

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Media captionUniversities Minister David Willetts: "It has always been a competitive process"

Tens of thousands of people are set to miss out on a university place in the UK this year after record numbers applied.

Some 660,953 applied to start full-time undergraduate courses this autumn, up 11.6% on the same point last year.

And if last year's pattern is repeated, tens of thousands more will apply before the September deadline.

Lecturers union, the UCU, fears up to 170,000 people could be disappointed, as a cap on places is enforced.

But this is an estimate based on the number of places allocated in UK universities last year, with some additions for extra places in England.

These extra 10,000 undergraduate places in England are mainly in science and maths departments, and some are part time.

There are no equivalent figures available for universities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Representative body Universities UK said funding limits meant universities would not be able to meet demand by taking extra students.

Its chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: "Today's figures show that demand for higher education in the UK remains very solid and that competition for places will be intense again this year.

"It is quite likely therefore that more qualified applicants will fail to secure places this year."

Universities Minister David Willetts said he was increasing the number of university places but that getting on a degree course had always been a competitive process.

He added: "Year on year around 100,000 applicants for whatever reason don't get a place."

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said said funding cuts to higher education would create a "lost generation" of learners.

More competitive

She said: "Today's figures make frightening reading. Other countries are increasing the number of graduates to compete in a high-skill knowledge economy, yet our government seems intent on doing the opposite."

Figures from Ucas also show the number of female applicants is up 12.4%, while the number of male applicants rose 10.5%.

And a large chunk of applicants - some 56,960 - are individuals who have previously applied.

Applications from all age groups are up on last year's figures with those from older applicants seeing the largest percentage rise.

However, those aged under 20 still make up the bulk of applicants, just under 500,000 coming from that age group.

Ucas said it was glad that figures from January, suggesting a year on year rise of over a fifth or 23%, seemed to have settled down.

The inflated rates of increase reported in their earlier statistics were down to a change in the deadline for a number of courses, it said.

Its chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: "I'm glad increases are looking more manageable than earlier in the cycle, but this year's applications landscape is clearly more competitive than ever."

'No walkover'

Speaking on BBC's Today Programme, Ms Curnock Cook would not be drawn on predictions of how many students would miss out on a place but she said there would be a slightly lower acceptance rate.

"What we're predicting is that whereas about two years ago 15 out of 20 people who applied for higher education would have got a place, it may be about 14 this year.

"So overall the acceptance rate of those applying is still around 70%.

"You've still got a very good chance of getting into higher education. But I don't think anyone wants that to be a walkover."

She added that the Ucas team was on hand to offer advice to those that did not meet the conditions of their offer this year.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said the government recognised the important role graduates have to play in the economy and society.

This was why it was providing funding for an extra 10,000 student places on last year's numbers, he said. This is 10,000 less than had been promised by the former Labour government, however.

The spokesman added: "But university is not always the right option for young people.

"Demand from employers for skilled workers is rising so we are investing in Further Education and we are funding 50,000 new high quality apprenticeships."

National Union of Student president Aaron Porter said it was vital that the government invested in education.

"It is a mistake to cut the number of places at universities when demand is so high and the country needs a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce to help rebuild the economy," he added.

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