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8,000 to miss out in Northern Ireland university bid

Squeeze on places as record numbers apply

By Lindsay Fergus

More than 8,000 local students will miss out on a place at one of Northern Ireland’s universities this autumn after a record number of applications.

Almost 17,000 students from here have applied to study at Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster — but there are just 8,133 places.

Also fighting for those coveted places are more than 2,000 European students keen to take advantage of Northern Ireland’s cheaper £3,465-a-year tuition fees.

They will find out today, when A-level results are published, if they have been successful.

For those who have missed out on a university place, they will have to battle for less than 200 available places at Queen’s and the University of Ulster through clearing.

This year’s scramble has been fuelled by the £9,000 tuition fees being charged by some universities in other parts of the UK.

Not only has there been a significant drop in the number of Northern Ireland students applying to universities in England, Scotland and Wales — because of their significantly higher fees — but there has also been a rise in applications to our universities from students in Britain.

A University of Ulster spokesman said: “We are encouraged that demand remains strong for study at the University of Ulster. At a time when national applications are generally down across the UK, we have bucked that trend.”

Figures from UCAS — the University and Colleges Admissions Service — show there has been a 14.8% slump in Northern Ireland applications to Scottish universities, a 16% fall for Welsh higher education institutions and a 13.7% decrease for English universities.

That is because local students at Queen’s or the University of Ulster face a minimum £10,395 fees debt after three years of study, compared to £27,000 if they go to Britain.

And with between 75 and 100 places available through clearing for Queen’s and fewer than 100 at the University of Ulster for those without offers or who don’t get the desired A-level results tomorrow, they will have to decide on going to a university elsewhere and risk saddling themselves with a £27,000 debt. The alternative is ditching their university dream.

It has prompted Northern Ireland’s biggest student movement, NUS-USI, to call on Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry to make even more places available in our universities.

Minister Farry, who decides the number of first-year undergraduate full-time degree places (known as the MaSN Cap) available in Northern Ireland, has already increased places at Queen’s and the University of Ulster by 220 for the 2012/13 year.

However, president of NUS-USI, Adrianne Peltz, believes he has not gone far enough.

“It is incumbent upon the institutions and the minister to work together to raise the number of places available here, particularly given the rise in tuition fees in England,” she said.

“We would like to see the minister increase MaSN (Maximum Student Number) enough to lift the number of places available here significantly.

“This could mean many people having to go to university in England as they can’t get a place here, and as a result they will face fees of up to £9,000 annually and the debt burden that goes with that.”

A loophole in the legislation means students in Britain can be charged higher fees to study here — and are excluded from the MaSN figures.

The UU has set its fees at £6,000 for English, Scottish and Welsh students, while Queen’s is charging £9,000. But once scholarships are factored in some students will pay £6,500 a year.

That has prompted a rise in applications from English and Welsh students— up 16.3% and 17.1% respectively.

Overall there has been a record number of 22,250 applicants to our universities for 2012/13 — up 0.3% on last year and in stark contrast to the figures for England and Wales which have seen 9% and 10% fewer applicants.

Demand surges for courses at our regional colleges

By Lindsay Fergus

One in five higher education students are now opting to study a degree at one of Northern Ireland’s six regional colleges.

And with university tuition fees rising in Britain to as much as £9,000 annually, there has never been more demand for higher education places in further education colleges.

Gerry Campbell, chief executive of Colleges Northern Ireland, said: “The six regional colleges currently deliver 20% of Northern Ireland’s Higher Education provision — this equates to over 11,000 enrolments on an annual basis. Interest and demand from students in the courses and qualifications on offer by the regional colleges reached unprecedented levels in 2011, and the trends so far indicate that 2012 will exceed these figures.”

Less outlay, including substantial savings on higher education fees of up to £2,000 a year and the ability to live at home, are just two of the attractions for students.

According to North Regional College’s (NRC) prospectus for 2012/13, higher education fees for full-time students are £1,380 per year — considerably less than the £3,465 you have to pay to study the same degree at a Northern Ireland university.

Mr Campbell explained: “It is important for prospective students to remember that regional colleges can offer viable alternatives and options that eliminate the requirement to wait for the next two to three weeks in clearing processes with other institutions.

“These options are also more cost-effective for students as well as giving the student the flexibility to continue part-time work or develop complementary skills that enhance their employability.

“Given the current budget pressures on individuals and the wider economic situation, the higher education provision in the regional colleges remains affordable, accessible, flexible and highly valued by employers, business and industry.”

He added: “There has never been a better time to contact your

local college and see where they can help you make the right choice in terms of where to go next within higher education. But don’t delay, as interest and demand is very high.”

A number of the colleges have already seen an increase in applications for 2012/13, which are not made through UCAS as for universities, but by direct entry.

South Eastern Regional College (SERC) has reported a 6% rise in applications for its full-time higher education courses with engineering, bio sciences, health and social care and performing arts proving popular, while South West College has two students competing for every full-time higher education place.

SWC deputy director Leo Campbell said: “There is strong competition for these places which are all foundation degree and in skills priority areas for the economy.

“The college values its higher education recruitment and considers its continual development crucial for the local economy as there is no university in the sub region of Tyrone and Fermanagh.”

What is clearing?... am I eligible?... how does the system actually work?

Natalie Fleming answers the crucial questions that every prospective student will be asking

Q What actually is university clearing?

A Clearing is a service that can help people without a university or college place find suitable vacancies on higher education courses. For instance, if you have not achieved the required grades for your preferred degree course but you have reasonable exam results, there is a chance you can still find a place at a university through the clearing system.

Q Where can I get more information?

A Visit

Q Am I eligible for clearing?

A Yes, if any of the following points apply:

  • You haven’t received any offers;
  • You have declined all offers or not responded by the due date;
  • Your offers have not been confirmed because you haven’t achieved the required grades;
  • You have declined a changed course, a changed date of entry and/or changed point of entry offer;
  • You have applied for only one course, which has been unsuccessful, and you have already paid the full application fee — £22 for 2012 applications;
  • If you sent your UCAS application after June 30.

On the day of results clearing will become operational. Check Track on UCAS’ website to see if you're eligible to use clearing as UCAS will not send you anything in the post.

Q Where can I find out which university courses are available through clearing?

A On the UCAS website,

Q How does the clearing system work?

A If you are eligible for clearing an ‘Add Clearing Choice' button will appear on your Track ‘choices' screen which you can use to apply for a course. There should be a clearing number visible on the ‘Welcome page’ or the ‘choices’ page in ‘Track’. Ensure the number is written down as every university you contact will ask for it, then telephone every university which has a course that interests you. Details can only be entered for one choice. Only enter a clearing choice if the university in question has provisionally offered you a place and you are sure you want to accept.

Q How do I contact universities?

A Go through the list of universities offering courses you would be interested in at, where telephone numbers will be included. It is important that you seem very eager to the person at the other end of the line, so be as optimistic about the course, and yourself, as possible.

Q Do I have to stick to my original university and course choice?

A No, there may be other areas which might suit you better.

Q What if I no longer want to study at my confirmed choice of university?

A Telephone the university and ask to be withdrawn from the course. It can take a while to be withdrawn, so in that time telephone the university you want to change to and ensure they are holding a place for you. If the university you wish to withdraw from is being slow removing you, keep telephoning them and persist to be removed from the course. Once you are withdrawn, and you have an offer through clearing, add the details of the offer through the ‘add clearing choice’ option.

Q How will I know when I have been accepted?

A If the university accepts you, it will become visible in the ‘choices’ section in the ‘Track’ page. A letter of confirmation will also be sent to inform you that you have officially gained a place at that university. If you are not accepted, the ‘add clearing choice’ will be reactivated so you can apply elsewhere. It is important to read the terms and conditions of the university you apply for before accepting a place. You cannot apply to another university in the same year.

Q Where can I go for further advice?

AIf you need help understanding the clearing system or have any questions, you can telephone advisers on the UCAS clearing helpline, 0871 468 0468.

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