Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Merrily on High: Student Enrolment Hits Record Level: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Merrily on High: Student Enrolment Hits Record Level: News

Article excerpt

Participation widens, but questions may be asked over falling entry requirements. Jack Grove reports.

Record numbers of students from poor families are going to university as 2013-14 undergraduate enrolment bounced back from last year's slump to reach an all-time high.

But while ministers welcomed the news that university acceptances had recovered after falling sharply when Pounds 9,000 tuition fees were introduced, concerns are likely to be raised over the lower entry grades being demanded across the sector.

According to Ucas' End of Cycle Report, published on 19 December, a record 495,600 full-time undergraduates were accepted into higher education in its 2013-14 admissions cycle - exceeding the previous high of 492,030 in 2011-12.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said the sector's performance was "very good news" and a "vindication of our reforms".

He added: "If you compare the evidence in these figures with the scares and warnings when we introduced the new system - that kids would be put off applying to university, especially from poorer backgrounds - this shows that, thank heavens, those fears were misplaced."

However, Mr Willetts warned that there may be "years of famine" ahead owing to the declining number of young Britons.

This year, with UK higher education institutions making 1.7 million offers - 9 per cent more than in 2012-13 - acceptances rose to either record or near-record levels in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In England, acceptances went up 7.3 per cent to a record 367,900, while a 3.4 per cent increase in the enrolment of 18-year-olds means that 40 per cent of young people in England now attend higher education by the age of 19.

Entry rates for students from poorer areas have also improved.

Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas' chief executive, welcomed a "further reduction in the gap between rich and poor".

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said the data show "that the work that universities are doing to widen participation is making a difference", although there was still more to be done.

In 2013-14, 18-year-olds in England's most disadvantaged areas were 12 per cent more likely to enter higher education than in 2011-12 (before the introduction of higher tuition fees), with almost 17 per cent of them finding places. …

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