HUNDREDS of thousands of would-be students have already applied to university in an attempt to secure a place early, official figures show.
Data published by Ucas, the university admissions service, reveals that 344,064 people had submitted their applications to start courses this autumn by December 20.
This is a 2.5 per cent increase on the same period the previous year, and means there are around an extra 8,000 people fighting for the same number of places as last year.
The figures suggest that plans to triple tuition fees at English universities from 2012 are fuelling the rush to apply. Those who enter university this autumn will be the last to avoid the rise.
Under the plans, approved by Government last month, English universities will be able to charge home and EU students a basic threshhold of 6,000 per year, and up to 9,000 in exceptional circumstances.
The Ucas figures show that the number of young people planning on going into higher education has fallen slightly.
The numbers of teenagers aged 17 and under applying to start courses in the autumn has fallen by 13.5 per cent, while among 18-year-olds the numbers are down 1.2 per cent. The number of 19-year-old applicants is up 7.8 per cent and 11.7 per cent more 20-year-olds are planning on going to university.
These may well include students who missed out on places last year.
There have also been marked rises in the numbers of applications by students from areas such as the European Union and Hong Kong.
An extra 1,439 people from the EU, excluding the Republic of Ireland, have submitted applications, along with an extra 368 from Hong Kong – a 16 per cent rise.
More women than men have applied – 199,238 females compared with 144,826 men, the figures show.
Last week the Yorkshire Post revealed that almost every university across the region had seen an increase in the number of applicants compared with the same time in December 2009.
York St John has seen a 25 per cent increase while Bradford has had 24 per cent more applications with 6,268 compared with 5,052 in 2009. Huddersfield University had an 17 per cent rise with 11,562 candidates in December, last year, which was up from 9,855 from 13 months ago.
Leeds Metropolitan University has had 17,418 applicants so far for 2011. This is up from 14,982 in 2009 – making a rise of 16 per cent.
Hull, Leeds and York Universities also saw increases.