Tens of thousands of A-level students hoping for a place at university will be disappointed, a Government minister warned.
With A-level results due on Thursday, Higher Education Minister David Willetts said that the number of students who do not get a place could be higher than in previous years.
One university vice-chancellor predicted that the number who would lose out this year could be a record 200,000, despite the Government creating additional student places.
Mr Willetts said that since the coalition came to power in May they had managed to create 10,000 additional places, but were faced with an increase in applications of more than 11 per cent.
“There has been a surge in applications so sadly there are going to be a significant number of young people who apply for university and don’t get a place,” he said.
“Getting to university has always been a competitive process but it is going to be very tough this year, I don’t disguise that.
“Last year there were 160,000 young people who applied and didn’t get a place. It could be a greater number this year.”
Professor David Green, the vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester, said he believed that the number of available places would actually be slightly fewer this year.
He blamed controls introduced in the dying days of the last Labour government which meant that universities faced a fine of £3,700 for each student they admitted above their allocated total.
“People are going to do absolutely all in their power to avoid over-recruiting which of course inevitably will mean that they will undershoot and that the system as a whole will undershoot because everybody will try to under-recruit,” he said.
Prof Green said that he expected about 200,000 students would fail to get places, compared to 125,000 just two years ago.
“We can be absolutely certain that many of the people who aren’t able to get into university this year will have good qualifications and in all previous years over the last ten or 15, they would have got into university with the same qualifications. Surely that is just plain wrong,” he said.
Mr Willetts said he would like to change the system but that it would involve changing the way universities were funded, which was currently the subject of a review by Lord Browne, the former BP boss.
“If we can move towards a more diverse and open system which enables us to combine some kind of overall control over public spending with greater freedom for individual universities, I would very much like to go in that direction,” he said.