Just as the Government has decided to cap university places by 5,000, UCAS has revealed that there has been an increase of 34,000 applications bringing the national figures up to 465,000 applicants for the 2009/2010 academic year.

Universities such as Birmingham city, Bucks new University, Portsmouth University and Hull University have had the most significant increase in applications with figures up by 25%. Figures also suggest that the current weak value of the pound has sparked more international interest where figures show that applicants within the EU have gone up by 14% and outside of the E.U by 9% of which a majority are Chinese.

Furthermore, there has been a 12.6% increase in the number of mature students applying to university which suggests that many people are turning to further education to gain higher qualifications and in preparation for when the job market picks back up again.

The types of degree students are choosing to study are also telling of the current economic climate. Economics and Maths degrees are both up by at least 10% and public sector degrees have also seen an increase in popularity such as Nursing, 16.7% and Teaching 10.7% which are commonly considered as ‘safe’ jobs and usually in high demand. Conversely, a 7.6% decline in construction degrees has reflected the current slump in the building industry.

“The big problem is that admission numbers are capped and we’ve got a 7.8% increase in applications. If this is the case there will be more competition this year.”

Steve Smith, the Vice-chancellor at Exeter University, which has seen an 88% rise in applications from students from outside the E.U, reflected on the current situation, ‘It feels like the rise in applications is linked to the recession. That happened in previous recessions so we’ve been expecting it. The big problem is that admission numbers are capped and we’ve got a 7.8% increase in applications. If this is the case there will be more competition this year’. Furthermore Universities are powerless to expand the number of student places themselves, facing strict penalties from the government if they do.

Wes Streeting, the president of the NUS (National Union of Students) has warned that ‘Unless there is an urgent expansion of places, universities will be unable to meet this demand. We are therefore calling on the Government to launch an immediate review of student numbers for the coming year and invest in the number of places needed to guarantee a place to those who have the ability and aspiration to succeed in higher education.

Sally Hunt of the UCU (University and Collge Union) added ‘we believe that the Government should remove the cap on student numbers in a strong gesture that it shares our belief in the power of education as a force for good’.

Streeting reinforced his previous comments saying that ‘The Government needs to weigh up the cost of putting people through higher education with the cost of unemployment. It is cruel to raise aspirations, convince people to apply and then close the door on them’.

However, the government shows no signs of opening up more places at universities according to Jim Denham, a source close to the universities secretary, which poses problems for this year’s applicants who will be up against tough competition as there will be little room for discretion for those students who narrowly miss their expected grades.

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