Emergency plan drawn up as universities overflow

By Liz Stephens

Lord Mandelson is drawing up emergency plans to expand the number of university places by 10,000 to avoid forcing thousands of would-be students on the dole.

The universities secretary has approached the Treasury to fund the extra places amid concerns that up to 40,000 students could miss out on a place due to record applications.

A cap was placed on student numbers last year to cut costs after ministers discovered a £200 million hole in university funding.

University vice-chancellors said they would veto the plans unless the Treasury comes up with the money needed – estimated at £90 million.

The surge in applications has been partly fuelled by older people wanting to do degrees during the recession.

Lord Mandelson has asked the board of Universities UK (UUK), the umbrella group for university vice-chancellors, to come up with ways to expand the number of places by around 10,000.

A spokesman for UUK said: “We are in discussions with the government and the message from us is that the sector could take more students, but these need funding.”

One option for funding places could be to allow more people to collect jobseeker’s allowance while they study part-time. Currently, those who study more than 16 hours a week do not qualify for payments.

Ministers are also considering plans to drop tuition fees for some students who choose to live at home with their parents if they waive their rights to grants and loans, it emerged yesterday.

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “We need to make sure government is working with college providers to ensure quality isn’t compromised and people aren’t left languishing on the dole.”

Educational charity the Sutton Trust revealed research today that indicates increasing numbers state school pupils are planning to go to university in the next decade.