Students scrap for remaining HE courses
His announcement comes as 185,000 candidates scramble for the 29,000 university places offered through the clearing system.
According to official figures released by UCAS, 684,649 applications for higher education courses were received by July 18 this year, resulting in a 1.4 per cent increase from 2010s figures.
Speaking on the Today Show on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Willetts said that some students would not be allocated a place:
“By and large it is a competitive system and it has always been a competitive system. …[but] even in tough times we are delivering more apprentice places and the record number of university places.”
He asserted that the government is providing numerous opportunities for school leavers through 10,000 additional university places and 50,000 extra apprenticeships.
“That is why we have delivered the 10,000 extra places this year. When public money is so tight, we have once more got a record number of places at university.
“Then of course we have increased the number of apprenticeship places and more than achieved our ambition of 50,000 extra apprenticeships. We are trying to make sure that young people have as many opportunities as possible.”
Appearing on a live Q&A discussion hosted by The Telegraph a few hours later, Willetts said that Technology Colleges would make a come back, which would see students offered a “real job with an employer and released part time to study or to get more training.”
When confronted on the forum by a member of the general public, who blamed the government for “sending far too many students to sixth form and university to study pointless courses,” Willetts said relief would be offered via these increased apprenticeship opportunities:
“Across the Western world more young people are going to university and I support that aspiration. But they need much better information on the outcomes from specific courses at specific universities. And we are increasing the number of apprenticeships so that there is a wider range of options.”
Criticisms about the government’s policy on university places has also been voiced from senior figures in the higher education sector.
Economist and vice chancellor of the University of Worcester has spoken out, claiming that the government needs to act now to avoid an “autumn of agony” for prospective students.
In an article published on The Guardian web site on 15 August, David Green writes that high unemployment rates is proof that “yet again we are letting down significant numbers of our young people just when we need their talent, enthusiasm and hard work to reinvigorate the country's economic growth.”
Green argues that, given the opportunity, some universities would like to expand their student numbers, however, they are currently blocked by the system: “[The government] not only prevents universities from expanding, it obliges the funding council to fine those that recruit above their quota – the so-called "control number" they have been set – at the rate of £3,700 per student.”
The midlands-based VC prompts ministers to throw a “lifeline” to those students struggling to secure a university place for the upcoming academic year. “[The government] could simply announce that the control number for this year will not operate or even just raise it by just 10 per cent for each institution. If they did that this week, it would mean universities could offer places to more than an additional 10,000 applicants.”
Many institutions have raised their entry requirements this year because of the record demand for places.