The University of Worcester is offering prospective students a glimmer of hope after the Government relaxed its own strict rules concerning numbers.
Up to 50,000 people could miss out on a university place in September as the severe recession forces them to seek refuge in higher education rather than face unemployment.
Figures from the UCAS clearing service, which helps students find a university place if they fail to get into their first-choice institution, shows a 9.7 per cent rise in applications over the last 12 months. So far this year 592,312 people have applied to start courses this autumn compared with 540,108 at this time last year.
Government ministers are still believed to be looking at making more university places available but the Government is maintaining the cap on student funding which will result in universities being fined if they recruit beyond their baseline allocation.
The University of Worcester says it will be one of the few higher education institutions to have places available through the clearing process this year, after successfully being awarded additional student numbers.
Registrar John Ryan said the Higher Education Funding Council for England had awarded the university additional student numbers, allowing it to recruit beyond its baseline quota. This had allowed the university to award 1,500 additional student places over the past four years, he added.
Reports suggest that thousands of teenagers could end up on the dole as 50 per cent fewer places may be available through the annual clearing scheme.
But Mr Ryan added: “This award of additional student numbers means that we will be one of just a few universities that will be able to offer places through clearing this year, at a time when so many people are looking to get into higher education.
“We have been awarded additional student numbers because we meet educational need effectively, combining widening participation with high quality. We are Britain’s fastest-growing university, with applications through UCAS up by more than 100 per cent in the past five years. This year has seen record application figures at the university – up 12 per cent on last year.”
The University of Worcester is developing a £100 million-plus campus involving the former Royal Infirmary buildings. The first phase opens in September.
Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary, Lord Mandelson, on a recent visit to Aston University, said he would discuss with ministers ways of easing the expected increased demand for university places this summer. He said: “We are anticipating greater demand for university places from those who might otherwise have gone into employment, but are finding it difficult to do so because of the economic downturn and are looking at university instead.”
But University of Birmingham’s director of admissions, Roderick Smith, said they had heard nothing about the Government funding additional student places. He said: “Given that the Government is enforcing the student cap, there will be many unhappy students this summer who will not get places. Universities will not be able to cope with 30,000-40,000 additional students when they only have the same number of places as last year. Something has to give. Our intake is 5,000 undergraduates but we are content with that.”