Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Record applicants accepted at UK universities in 2009

By Gary Eason
Education correspondent, BBC News

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More students than ever before were accepted for UK university courses in 2009 - but higher demand meant applicants' chance of a place fell.

There were 481,854 accepted applicants in 2009, 25,227 more than the previous year - an increase of 5.5% overall.

But the number of applicants had been 8.7% higher. The rate of acceptance fell from 78% to 75%.

The admissions service, Ucas, noted a particularly large rise (15.3%) in applicants aged 25 and over.

It also said the number of accepted applicants had gone up by 44% since 1999.

Chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: "2009 saw an unprecedented demand for places at university or college, but significantly more students have been accepted into higher education than ever before."

Wider participation

The rise in the number of overseas students accepted was 10.1%, up from 51,603 to 56,791.

Within the UK, Welsh institutions had proportionately more accepted applicants in 2009 than in 2008, whereas England's share of the total fell slightly from 83.8% to 83.5%.

There was a mixed message on the numbers of under-19s going from different areas of the UK in terms of usual university participation.

In the areas that typically send fewer than one in five young people on to higher education, the increase in acceptances was 8.4%.

At the other end of the scale, in areas where more than half normally become undergraduates, the increase was 3.5%.

It was numerically greater though - accounting for an extra 3,137 students against 2,279 in the poorer areas.

England's Higher Education Minister, David Lammy, said that more than 47,000 people had found a place through the clearing system "despite early scaremongering".

Concerns about cuts

The umbrella organisation for university vice-chancellors, Universities UK, said the significant rise in applications overall for 2009 entry had shown how well people understood the benefits and value of higher education, especially in a tough economic climate.

Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: "The notable 15.3% increase in the number of applicants aged 25 years or over demonstrates how far we have moved away from the old model of university just being an activity for the 18 to 21-year-olds."

She added: "In the context of this unprecedented demand, Universities UK is continuing to campaign against extensive financial cuts to the sector."

The government has notified the funding council for England of extra cuts of £135m to universities in 2010-11, on top of the £600m announced in the pre-Budget report for 2011-13 and £263m of efficiency savings already known about.

Answering questions in the House of Lords, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson - whose department oversees higher education - said this amounted to a reduction of less than 5% over the next three years.

He said: "Tighter budgets right across the public sector, including in higher education, can be a spur to further diversifying funding of British universities.

"It can also focus minds on teaching and research excellence and new ways of delivering higher education.

"These trends are already part of the picture of higher education. I think both trends need to become more so in the coming years."

'Fantastic record'

The University and College Union (UCU) said the university experience for those fortunate enough to gain a place could be ruined by record class sizes if the cuts went ahead.

The president of the National Union of Students, Wes Streeting, said it had been concerning that so many students with the ability to go to university were not able to as a result of the cap imposed on student numbers last year.

Shadow universities minister, David Willetts, said the government must not block people's aspirations.

"Ministers have said they will fine universities almost £4,000 for every student that they over-recruited in 2009.

"We are in the absurd position that ministers are fining universities for moving towards the government's own targets on student numbers and widening participation."

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