Crunch Day For A Level Students

(Reuters) – SCHOOL LEAVERS WHO FAIL to get the A-level grades they need for their chosen universities today have been warned to move fast to beat an unprecedented squeeze on higher education places.

Hundreds of thousands of students will be receiving their results during the morning; but with university applications at a record high, those who just miss their grades face tough competition to find a college berth.

An extra 60,000 people have applied for university this year, an increase of around 11%, while the government has only agreed to fully fund a rise of around 3,000 full-time students.

More than a third of the increase comes from mature applicants aged 21 and over, many seeking a haven from the economic recession that has fuelled unemployment and made jobs scarce.

Last year, 44,000 applicants who had just missed their required grades were able to get on another course through the universities clearing system.

But clearing body UCAS says it expects only around half that number of places to be available this year because of the extra demand.

‘The increased pressure on places this year means that competition is likely to be more intense and it will be a challenging time for everyone,’ said Diana Warwick, chief executive of the vice-chancellors’ body Universities UK.

‘The clearing process for this summer will be briefer and tighter than in previous years.’

Students failing to get the grades they need are being advised to start looking for clearing places as early as possible today.

But inevitably many will miss out, with more than 600,000 applicants chasing around 460,000 university places.

Unlike previous years, the government has put a tight limit on university student numbers in order to keep a lid on rising education expenditure, and has threatened financial penalties for universities that over-recruit.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson announced an extra 10,000 places for science courses last month, but funding for these will only cover loans and grants to students, with no additional payments to universities to cover teaching costs.

As a result, many universities have said they cannot afford to offer them, saying the quality of the courses would suffer.

The Conservatives said the government was at fault for a situation which some fear could lead to a ‘lost generation’ who never fulfil their potential.

‘Tens of thousands of young people who expected to go to university this year will be disappointed, and ministers are to blame,’ said Conservative universities spokesman David Willetts.

‘First, they cut the number of extra university places, then they told universities they could offer some new places after all but only on an unfunded basis, which many of them could not accept.

‘Now they are still threatening the university sector with fines for over-recruitment. This is a recipe for disaster.’

Higher Education Minister David Lammy said every student who made the grades required for their university offer was guaranteed their place.

‘Unfortunately, there will always be students who miss their offers but there are a whole range of options open to them including clearing, reapplying for next year or seeking work experience or training,’ he said.

‘Getting to university has always been a competitive process and this year we have seen unprecedented demand.’

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