Universities are letting in an increasing number of students without any qualifications. About 20 now offer extended science courses for which there are no formal entry requirements.
The courses, on which students can claim grants and fees for four years, are becoming increasingly common as universities struggle to recruit scientists and mathematicians. Many of the students involved have not taken A-levels or comparable courses, but some have - and done badly.
There were signs this weekend that many colleges were unlikely to meet their target numbers. Admissions tutors said that, while candidates were still inquiring about arts courses, the telephones in science departments had virtually stopped ringing. There is extra pressure this year because the Government has threatened financial penalties for universities which either overshoot or undershoot on recruitment.
Tony Higgins, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said the shortages stretched beyond science and engineering courses. Some universities reported difficulties in finding students for languages, economics and geography.
So far this year, 254,000 students have accepted places, …