Under growing economic strain, the government has requested that universities recruit fewer students for the next academic year in order to cut grant costs. The figure, which once stood at 15,000 additional places being offered in September 2009, has now been revised to a growth of 10,000.

This comes after the admission that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills underestimated the number of students who would be eligible for student loans and grants, leaving a huge budget shortfall of £200 million. This cap on growth will be coupled with funding cut-backs, including a £19 million reduction in the proposed budget for universities for the 2009-2010 session. Universities Secretary John Denham, in his annual letter to Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), confirmed the cuts, stating that universities “minimise and preferably eliminate over-recruitment” – effectively extinguishing Labour’s target of 50% of young people attending university by 2010.

Shadow Education Secretary David Willets said: “These figures will come as a shock to sixth formers taking A-Levels and diplomas, to people who want to up-skill during the recession and to employers needing higher skills. We cannot hope to emerge from the recession in a competitive state until there is a clearer strategy for higher-level skills.”

A recent UCAS report shows a 10.4% rise in the number of university acceptances in 2008, alongside a 10.1% growth in applications – which resulted in 456,627 new undergraduates last year. In sum, prospective students will face increased competition, as the supply of places in universities fails to match the ever increasing demand.

Louis George Hemsley

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