By Ray Fleming

If something you want very badly is going to cost you three times more next year than this, you will not be inclined to defer your purchase. That, crudely put, is what lies behind the extraordinary demand for university places this year revealed on Thursday when A-level examination results were released in Britain.

The figures vary somewhat but broadly speaking there are six times more qualified applicants than there are available places at the universities - approximately 185'000 students chasing 30'000 vacancies.

Those who are chosen to start this year will pay three thousand pounds a year for the privilege; next year it will be nine thousand.
It will be interesting next year to see whether the higher fees lead to a better match between provision of university places and demand. In future the great majority of graduates will leave university with a loan debt of twenty or thirty thousand pounds and in present circumstances with an uncertain opportunity of finding employment to help repay it.

Faced with that prospect many may think a better bet is to try to find employment immediately and to develop their intellectual capacity and specialised skills on the job and with the help of part-time education. It is not an enviable choice to have to make and one that is likely either way to be subject to the vagaries of the global economy.

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