With A-level results right around the corner, many students' minds are turning to university. More than 660,000 people applied for a university place this year, up almost 12% on last year (which was itself a record-breaker, at 592,312 applications for 373,793 places).
The surge in university applications is largely explained by people opting for education rather than trying to find a job in a tough economic climate. There has also been a significant increase in university applications from prospective mature students and from people who missed out on places last year.
However, anyone thinking of taking a gap year and applying next year when the economy may be stronger should think again. All the signs point to competition for university places increasing yet further in 2011 because the new Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has ordered a radical shake-up of higher education. It's very likely this will result in fewer university places being made available.
Tony Blair set the famous target of getting 50% of young people through university, but Cable has made clear his concerns that the increase in available university places has devalued degrees. Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, disagrees with Cable's view and has warned that reducing university places would "jeopardise the fragile economic recovery and place us at risk of returning to a higher education system accessible only to a liberal elite".