The government has today announced that 10,000 additional university places will be made available for applicants wishing to study maths, science, technology and engineering.
The additional places will be allocated by the higher education funding council and funded by the government. In order to recoup the costs of funding the additional places the length of the student loan repayment holiday is being cut from five years to just two.
Announcing the plan, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said: “By making available 10,000 extra places in science, technology and maths we are not only helping more individuals with the ambition and ability to go to university but also investing in this country’s future.
“Our expansion of higher education is more important now than ever as we continue to invest in a highly skilled workforce to win the jobs of the future and lead the way in building Britain’s future.”
The issue surrounding university places arose earlier in the year when it emerged that the government had not sidelined enough funds to support the number of applicants. This year the number of students applying to higher education increased by 9%. Figures from UCAS suggest that there has been a 10.8% rise in the number of students wishing to take mathematical degrees this year. 19.1% more applied to study mechanical engineering.
The NUS has welcomed the announcement, but warned that many non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) would still be left without a place. NUS Vice President for Higher
Education, Aaron Porter, said: “We are pleased that the Prime Minister has listened to our concerns and decided to increase the number of university places for next year, in light of the huge increase in applications and the fact that employment opportunities for young people are lower than they have been for a generation.
“However, thousands of people who have applied to study non-STEM subjects are still going to be without a place in the summer.”
The 1994 Group, which consists of leading research universities, has also welcomed the news but warned that standards should not be a scapegoat for recuperating costs.
Professor Paul Wellings, Chair-elect of the 1994 Group and Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement to provide additional student support funding for 10,000 students to help meet rising demand for university places. 1994 Group universities want to help meet this demand but we must all recognise the financial pressures universities are under to maintain the quality of student experience.”
He added: “Offering the highest quality of degrees is crucial to give graduates the best chances of employability in a tough job market. We must ensure that UK universities do not offer cut-price, lower quality degrees of less value to students.”
Despite the additional measures many applicants are still expected to be turned away. Last year, according to UCAS, 44,000 students applied for places through clearing alone. Phil Willis, chairman of the Commons select committee covering higher education, said recently that the best solution would be to lift the cap on university places entirely.
He told the BBC: “What will happen this year is that some 30,000 will be looking for places in clearing that won’t be there. Lifting the cap is absolutely essential in 2009/10 otherwise we are going to see more students in dole queues rather than lecture halls.”