UK: With Less than a Week to Go, Unis Struggle to Fill Slots

The first classes of the fall term at most British universities are scheduled to begin in less than a week, but slots in degree programs in subjects like mathematics, engineering, law and nursing are still available, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, as of last Friday. At least 110 universities listed on UCAS, including several prestigious schools like York, Leicester and Surrey, were still advertising for students as late as last week — and at least 24 schools had slots open in over 200 courses and multiple degree programs.

The difficulties experienced by schools in drawing students has made true the prediction that British and EU students will be turned off from pursuing university degrees in England due to a newly implemented tuition schedule that allows schools to charge up to £9,000 per year of study. The new fees, which will go into effect for students who are beginning their studies for the first time this fall, will be up to triple those charged in previous years.

An analysis shows that institutions with the largest number of vacancies – including many new universities and former polytechnics – are almost all planning to charge average fees of between £8,000 and £9,000.
Students can also take courses such as two-year foundation degrees and HNDs at further education colleges. When vacancies at these institutions are added, the final number of spare courses soars to almost 21,000, UCAS said.

However, at least a portion of these numbers could be attributed to the fact that in 2011 many school graduates chose to skip the traditional gap year between secondary schools and universities in order to take advantage of lower university fees last year, therefore reducing the pool of prospective students this year. Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said that it was important to take the time to understand what these numbers truly mean and not take any hasty steps to correct a problem without figuring out what it might be.

"As everyone tries to adapt to the new chaotic and untried system, it is vital that no knee-jerk decisions are made by universities chasing the student pound that could lead to degrees or even whole departments closing. There is real concern that the government's experiment will lead to many who would benefit not going to university."

The drop in the number of pupils seeking admission to British universities wasn't exclusive to just English students. When combined with the acceptance numbers from students from abroad, including the EU, the demand for uni places plummeted by nearly 12% from year-before figures. Those schools that are still advertising places will have a harder time filling them once UCAS closes this Sunday and classes begin, since anyone who wishes to enroll will have to take the additional step of contacting the university directly.

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