After clearing, 188,697 applicants were unplaced, up from 139,520 last year.
While 22% of hopefuls missed out in 2009, this rose to 27% in 2010
The head of UCAS is warning that a “massive influx” of applicants trying to avoid an expected rise in fees in 2012 will further increase pressure on university places next year.
Tuition fees, currently limited to £3,290, are expected to roughly double if the government adopts reforms proposed by Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding, published last week.
He suggested completely removing the current cap on fees, with incentives for universities to keep them at £6,000.
The government announced a 40% cut to higher education funding in its Spending Review on Wednesday, saying it expected the income from fees to fill the gap.
Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook told the Times that she expected demand to outstrip supply again next year, and called on the government to clarify when fee rises would take effect.
“As soon as there’s uncertainty you will get a massive influx of applications,” Ms Curnock Cook said.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the university think tank Million+, called on the government to fund “significantly more” places during the transition to increased fees.
“It is entirely predictable that there will be a big increase in applications to university next year as would-be students scramble to secure places before much higher fees are introduced,” she said.
Last time fees were raised, in 2006, “there was no cap on student numbers and there were not 190,000 applicants who had missed out on places the preceding year”, she added.
Those failing to get places include prospective students applied late and failed to secure a place in clearing – the process where remaining university places are allocated after the A-level results are published – or did not get the necessary grades.
Of a total of 688,310 applicants, 479,057 were accepted.
In addition to the 188,697 who failed to get a place in clearing, another 18,000 withdrew their applications.
Some of these will have decided against university, but others may have pulled out in the hope of a more suitable place next year than they thought they would get through clearing. This pushes the number of would-be students who were turned away even higher.
This year, 46,248 students found a place through clearing, slightly down from 47,188 last year.
The number of planned new university places for this September was halved to 10,000 because of government spending cuts, but nearly 55,000 more people applied than in 2009.
The rise in demand is partly attributed to concerns about employment prospects, with both school leavers and mature students wanting to improve their qualifications in a competitive jobs market.