More than 10,000 students are set to miss out on a place at one of Northern Ireland’s universities amid a “mad rush” for places before fees rise.
The University of Ulster has warned that two-thirds of its degree course applicants will be turned down this year because of unprecedented demand.
Professor Alastair Adair, pro-Vice-Chancellor for communication at the university, said: “English universities are going to charge up to £9,000 next year, so we have a mad rush to get into university in 2011 before the super charges are introduced in 2012.”
Already an extra 337 students have applied to the UU compared to the same period last year.Professor Adair added: “There are 4,000 students who leave here every year to go and study in England, but with the increase in fees and the higher costs of living, more people are trying to study at home.
“It is a very sad indictment that there are so many talented young people who want to stay here and study here, but who will have to go to universities in Great Britain and many of them will never come back.”
A Department for Employment and Learning cap means just 5,000 undergraduate places for first year full-time students are available at the university in 2011.
And with the final deadline for applications yet to close, the university says there are more than three candidates competing for every space.
Professor Adair said: “At a time when the demand for degree-level education is rising, Northern Ireland remains the UK region with the fewest undergraduate places available.
“As fees in Great Britain rise to £9,000, more Northern Ireland students will wish to study at local universities, but places at those universities are capped by Government.
“That will only increase pressure on places here, and risk crowding out many local people who have the ability and talent to benefit from a university education.
Exact numbers for Queen’s University are not yet available but a spokeswoman said the number of applicants has shown a marginal increase on last year.
The latest figures from UCAS, the organisation responsible for managing applications, show that Northern Ireland has seen the biggest increase in university applicants in the UK.
Compared to the same period last year, there has been a 3.8% rise in candidates from 19,008 to 19,729 — well above the UK average of 1.3%, or 2.1% if you include those from overseas.
So far 633,811 people have submitted applications to begin UK university courses in September
According to UCAS. In 2010, 487,300 people won a place and a similar number are expected to be available this year, meaning a third will miss out on university.background
There is a lot of disparity in fees across the UK. In Northern Ireland tuition fees are capped at £3,290, but a consultation is under way, with proposals ranging from scrapping them to increasing them to £9,000. Welsh students will be subsidised. Scottish students do not have to pay fees.