High Number of Open University Slots in UK Blamed on New Fees

It appears that the worries of those who thought that their chances to get into university in England might be compromised by the new policy of recentering A-Level grades were premature.

According to Julie Henry, the Education Correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, because of a dramatic drop in the number of students applying for university slots this year, students with as little as two E grades on their A-levels are having no problems getting a place in a university course.

There are only a few short weeks to go before uni classes kick off, yet nearly 27,000 university slots remain unfilled. This is nearly a third higher than the number of spaces open at the same time last year. Overall, the number of UK or EU students going to university this fall has fallen by 12% over last year to 408,500 according to the latest estimates.

Even the country's best universities, the members of the Russell Group, have found themselves lowering their entrance requirements to fill seats.

The decline in England is being attributed to the sharp increase in tuition fees — to £9,000 in most places — scheduled to kick in this year. In the other countries that make up Great Britain, where the tuition hasn't gone up nearly as high, the number of applications actually went up. In Scotland, where university education remains free for students living in-country, both the number of applications and the number of students jumped by 2% this year. In Northern Ireland, where tuition isn't free but remains heavily subsidized, a similar increase was detected.

Although there were education advocates who were quick to blame the new government policy that allowed universities to charge higher tuition, some called for a little more caution in drawing conclusions. The spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said that the number of students who apply is sure to go up in the last days before the beginning of the fall term, and the decline could be equally attributed to the number of students who decided not to take a gap-year last year, instead choosing to take advantage of lower tuition to go to university right after college. This might have severely depressed demand for university slots this year, she added.

Figures published in recent weeks by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service suggested that the number of students being accepted onto courses was down by around 30,000. But the data only included those applying for the first time in 2012 – and not those completing exams in 2011 and deferring places for a year. When deferrals are added, the drop is significantly more severe, suggesting that thousands of teenagers axed plans for gap years to take advantage of the old fees regime.

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