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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 17:04 GMT
More get university places
Students in a lecture
The rate of increase slowed from 2001
There was a continued increase in the number of people accepted onto higher education courses in the UK this year, final official figures show.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), published on Friday, show that 368,115 students gained places - a rise of 10,000 or 2.8% on the previous year.

The rise in 2001 had been much more - 5.4% - but that now appears to have been a "blip" in the general trend.

But the National Union of Students said potential undergraduates were being put off by the fear of running up large debts.

Maths decline

The increase in accepted applicants aged under 21 was 1.8%. For those aged 21 to 24 it was 8.7%.

Accepted applications from mature students - aged 25 or more - were up 4.3%.

For maths courses, acceptances fell 4.1% - expected, given the drop in the numbers taking the subject at A-level last year after the notoriously tough AS-level of 2001, which was failed in large numbers.

Changes are being made to the A-level syllabus but will not take effect for some years.

Demand for places on education degree courses was up 17.3%, with media studies up 16.4%, politics 14.4%, nursing 13.2% and pre-clinical medicine 11.5%.

National variations

The number of applicants living in Scotland and accepted by Scottish institutions rose by 2% on 2001.

There was also an increase in the number of English applicants accepted by English institutions - up by 1.9%.

The number of overseas applicants admitted to UK universities and colleges was up 11.7%.

Acceptances to HND courses fell by 18.5% from 28,859 for 2001 entry to 23,531 for 2002.

Women fare less well

Broken down by gender, the figures show that men were slightly more likely than women to be accepted, even though women are better qualified.

The rate of acceptances out of applications was 80.25% for men against 79.38% for women.

A separate report on Friday from researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University said a big reason for this is that courses for lower-ability students, such as the Higher National Diploma (HND), are male-orientated.

There was little provision for sub-degree level subjects which appealed to women, they said.

Economics professor Derek Leslie, who did the work, said: "It does not appear to be an issue of direct discrimination at the point of contact.

"But there are still fewer opportunities for women at the lower end of the scale."

Widening access

And another piece of research suggested that making less demanding offers to high-achieving sixth formers from state schools in underprivileged parts of the country was the best way of widening access to university.

The study by academics at the universities of Southampton and Sussex, commissioned by the Department for Education, revived fears in private schools about discrimination against their pupils.

Ministers have said that they want to see universities using other methods than raw A-level results to try to recruit talented youngsters from deprived backgrounds.

The study involved interviews with academics at six different English universities.

They reckoned successful students had at least four things in common apart from "intellectual skills".

They were organised, worked well independently, were motivated to learn and interested in their subjects.

The report urged university admissions tutors to use these criteria when looking at borderline applications, together with data on the performance of the school, "to identify those applicants with relative educational disadvantage".

It was published by higher education's umbrella group, Universities UK, and will feature in a conference in London next Tuesday at which the Higher Education Minister, Margaret Hodge, is due to speak.

See also:

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