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Fees fuel a rush for prestige degrees

The prospect of Pounds 1,000 tuition fees for students seems, if anything, to have increased the scramble to get into the most prestigious universities while deterring students from applying to some former polytechnics.

Overall, applications for university places were thought to be down by about 6 per cent by Monday, the official closing date.

But a handful of universities, including the London School of Economics and Warwick, have seen a year-on-year rise in applications and other top institutions, such as Oxford and Imperial College London, have seen them hold steady.

As Dearing predicted in his report on higher education, the combined prospect of tuition fees and an end to maintenance grants does seem to have deterred students from less well-off families, who tend to be more strongly represented in the newer universities.

But the Department for Education and Employment believes much of the drop can be accounted for by the 26,000 extra students who this autumn hurriedly took up places a year early in a last-minute rush to beat the tuition fees.

There were also signs that many young people were applying late, some after reassurance that the tuition fee would be means-tested. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service wrote to schools last week reminding them that applications could still be submitted after Monday's closing date.

* Consultation ended this week on the Government's proposed reform of 14 to 19 qualifications that could blur the divide between academic and vocational education. Ministers were seeking views on a new advanced level national certificate, an umbrella qualification that would cover both A-levels and their vocational equivalents. It could be introduced as early as 2001.

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