University leaders have warned of a squeeze on university places as students push for courses in 2011 before a rise in tuition fees.
It was claimed that plans to more than double the cost of higher education in 2012 would lead to a sharp rise in applications next year.
The surge is expected to be fuelled by students reapplying after being rejected from university in record numbers this summer.
Figures showed almost 210,000 students – one in three applicants – failed to get onto degree courses starting this term.
The warnings came as David Willetts, the Universities Minister, revealed that the Government would set out plans for the future system of student tuition fees, grants and loans within weeks.
He said primary legislation would be put to Parliament before Christmas – cementing the new funding regime before 2012 university prospectuses were printed in April.
Mr Willetts also revealed that the Coalition had effectively ruled out plans to abolish the cap on student tuition fees.
He said unlimited fees would be “unsustainable”.
It clears the way for the Government to cap fees at £7,000 – more than double their present rate – although it falls far short of the sum demanded by many top universities.
Students also face paying a much higher interest rate on student loans under Coalition plans.
The announcement is set to trigger a desperate rush for university courses in coming months as students attempt to secure degree places for 2011. The deadline for most applications is January.
It follows a surge in demand five years ago when the cap on fees was last significantly raised.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million Plus, which represents new universities, said: “It is entirely predictable that there will be a big increase in applications to university next year as would-be students scramble to secure places before a different fee and funding regime is introduced. This is exactly what happened in 2005.
“This year there were nearly 60,000 ‘reappliers’ from 2009. Coupled with the prospect of fees of £7,000 per annum and a challenging jobs market, we could see a huge surge in applications for university in 2011.”
A review of higher education funding – led by Lord Browne, the former head of BP – recommended the complete abolition of the cap on student fees.
It suggested that universities could keep 100 per cent of fees up to £6,000. Those seeking to charge higher fees would be forced to pay a “levy” to underwrite the increased cost of issuing students with Government-subsidised loans, it said.
This raised the prospect of fees reaching as high as £14,000.
But speaking at the Higher Education Funding Council for England annual conference, Mr Willetts said there were “some very difficult issues around fee caps and levies”.
He added: "It is not sustainable or sensible to imagine having an unlimited fee cap. These are all areas the Coalition Government is looking at."
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has already said that the Coalition favoured fees of around £7,000.
But Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 20 top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, said: “Rowing back from Browne and re-imposing a cap would be a real waste of an opportunity to allow our leading universities to provide the high quality education that their students deserve.”
Leave your comments please. Thanks.