6,700 apply to British universities


MARK HENNESSY, London Editor

THE NUMBER of Irish students who have applied for places in British universities from next October has reached 6,700, but competition is likely to be intense after a surge in applications – now at their highest level since records began 40 years ago – from British students.

Reflecting the economic crisis and the costs of studying abroad, the number of Irish applications from the Republic is down from 6,825 a year ago. In contrast, the number applying to British universities from other EU member states is up by 17 per cent.

European Union students are entitled to British government loans to pay the £3,375 (€3,950) tuition fees due this September, although the costs will rise a year later to more than £6,000 for all courses, and to more than £9,000 for some.

More students have applied for science and maths this year while medicine and nursing are up by 18 per cent. Veterinary science and agriculture subjects are up by 12.8 per cent with linguistics and classics down by 2.7 per cent.

Last year, 210,000 people failed to get into university or college and even more will fail this year because they “are fighting over the same number of places”, said Prof Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University.

The rise in applications has been driven by young people’s decision to abandon plans for a “gap” year, and instead try to begin student life before the higher fees come into force. However, the higher charges will apply to their later years in college.

Applications from older would-be students in Britain have risen by 15 per cent for 21-year-olds and by 11 per cent for 24-year-olds, perhaps reflecting difficulties for that age group in getting work.

British universities and colleges are facing big financial problems because their teaching budgets will be cut by £300 million this year and by three-quarters once the higher fees structure comes into place in September 2012.

Under the existing loans system, repayments begin once graduates start to earn £15,000 a year. This threshold will rise to £21,000 once the higher charges come into force. The debt remains outstanding even if the student leaves the UK on graduation.

Universities minister David Willetts said: “In a year of unprecedented demand . . . we kept our commitment to fund an extra 10,000 student places. A strong demand for places was expected this year so universities will be able to recruit the same number of new students in 2011.”

The Irish Times – Wednesday, February 2, 2011

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