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By 2012 the cap on fees in England will rise from £3,290 to a maximum of £9,000, leaving applicants desperate to avoid huge costs.
But the rush to get in ahead of growing course costs means almost 230,000 may be unable to get a place. A total of 344,000 students filed applications before Christmas - 23,000 more than in the same month last year.
Should the trend continue over 700,000 people will be applying for the 479,000 university places available this year.
Many school-leavers are thought to have cancelled gap year plans in order to avoid the impending tuition fee rise but they are competing against record numbers of students who missed out last year and young people who are looking to avoid the dole queue, as well as more than 16,000 students from across the EU.
Despite the scramble for places, the Government has revealed a freeze on places this year and 10,000 fewer in 2012, warning universities that over-recruiting could mean a fine of up to £3,750 for each person over their limit.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, told the Daily Mail: "The increase in applications, on top of record numbers of people missing out last year, would prompt most Governments to make extra places available.
"Yet our Government seems intent on ignoring the global trend of increasing access to university, which will see thousands of applicants denied the chance to fulfil their potential."
What do you think? Will higher education once again become the privilege of the wealthy? Leave your comments below...