Ucas reveals that record 583,501 apply for a UK university place
More than 580,000 students have applied for a university place this autumn - with tens of thousands likely to be left disappointed.
Some 583,500 people have submitted applications, an extra 28,000 compared to the same point last year - a rise of 5.1%, according to statistics published by admissions service Ucas.
Last year, 487,300 people won a place. It is highly unlikely that many more places, if any, will be available this year, meaning tens of thousands could miss out.
The Ucas figures reveal that 583,501 people had applied by January 24, up from 555,439 at the same point last year - a rise of 28,062.
The record increase is likely to be partly down to would-be students hoping to start university this year to avoid the tuition fee hike due to be introduced in 2012, and high levels of student debt.
The Government has passed plans to triple tuition fees to as much as £9,000.
The rise in applications is set to place universities, already facing multimillion-pound funding cuts, under increasing pressure.
The statistics show that applications from students aged 19 and under rose by 10.2%, while those from 20-year-olds increased by 12.4% and those from 21-year-olds by 15.3%.
Applications from students aged 25 to 29 have gone up by 5.9%, and 6.9% among the 30 to 39-year-old age group.
And applications from overseas students have also risen higher than those from UK students.
While applications from UK students have risen 4%, among students from other EU countries outside the UK this has gone up by 17%, and for other overseas students 7.7%.
The figures also suggest that students are picking science and maths subjects, or those which are more practical, or vocationally led, than the arts.
Applications for subjects allied to medicine, like nursing, are up 18%, while those related to veterinary science and agriculture are up 12.8%.
But linguistics, classics and related subjects are down 2.7%, and combined arts down 1.5%.
Applications for the creative arts were up 11.8%, the figures show.
The figures come just days after ONS statistics revealed that graduate unemployment has hit its highest level for more than a decade, with a fifth out of work in the third quarter of 2010.
This is almost double the rate before the start of the recession, when it stood at 10.6%.
And Ucas figures published earlier this month revealed that the number of UK students accepted on to university courses dropped last year, while there was an increase in international students.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said the increase in applications shows a continuing demand for higher education.
"A university education is clearly still recognised for the enormous benefits it provides. Undoubtedly, gaining specialist higher-level skills gives graduates an edge," she said.
"The demand from home students remains high, with applicants from the UK making up 500,000 of the total 580,000 applications.
"It is also encouraging to see an 18% increase in science subjects, and an 11.8% rise in applications to the creative arts - a range of subjects that will be vital for the future growth of the UK economy.
"As always, competition for places is likely to be strong. However, speculation and panic benefits no-one; there is still a good chance of securing a place at university."
Professor Les Ebdon, chair of university think tank million+ and vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, said: "Just a few days ago, it was confirmed that 210,222 would-be students missed out on a university place in 2010.
"These latest figures on applications show that even more students are hoping to get to university in 2011 but they will be fighting over exactly the same number of places.
"Ministers may be right to say that getting to university should not be easy but they are wrong to allow nearly one in three students to miss out on university.
"The Government now has a straightforward choice - give a clear guarantee that everyone who is qualified to go to university will be funded in 2011 or instead spend its limited resources on an increased benefits budgets, as people who would have studied for degrees are left to sign on because of a shortage of funded places."
Universities Minister David Willetts insisted: "In a year of unprecedented demand from applicants, we kept our commitment to fund an extra 10,000 student places, allowing more students than ever before to go to an English university in 2010.
"A strong demand for places was expected this year so universities will be able to recruit the same number of new students in 2011.
"Going to university has always been a competitive process and not all who apply are accepted.
"Despite this, we do understand how frustrating it is for young people who wish to go to university and are unable to find a place. We are opening up other routes into a successful career."