Mail online:As students battle to secure a university place before the 2012 fees hike, the gap year abroad has fallen by the wayside.
Thousands of teenagers, due to receive their A-level results on Thursday, have scrapped plans to travel in favour of going straight to university.
They will be the last to secure a degree costing £3,290 a year before fees are increased, and in some cases tripled, next year.
As a result, just 6,000 18-year-olds have deferred a firm offer of a place on a university course for this year, according to admissions service Ucas. Last year 20,000 did.
Universities are baffled as to why anyone would take a gap year this year and are telephoning those who want to do so to check they understand the increase in fees.
Studies show students starting in 2012 will face an average of £56,000 of debt on graduation, compared with around £27,000 if they started their studies this September.
Clare Beckett, head of recruitment at the University of West London, which is to charge £7,500, said: ‘Gap years are a thing of the past. I can see them not existing. We have had very few people actually wanting to defer.
‘Any students that have chosen to defer, we have actually called to remind that there will be a hike in the fees and ask if they really want to defer. A couple still have but very, very few.’
Stuart Rees Jones, founder of gap year company Camps International which organises volunteer work abroad, has seen an increase in students opting to fit volunteer work around their degree.
‘It would be a terrible shame if travel and volunteer work become a life-style choice,’ he said.
‘If students don’t do a gap year there’s a risk they’ll have little to offer but a string of academic qualifications.
‘What employers want are individuals. I have faith that future students will recognise this and want to do volunteer work.’
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Youngsters are facing unprecedented pressure to get on a course with around 350,000 students set to chase 40,000 places through last-minute clearing on Thursday.
One vice-chancellor has called on ministers to scrap the Government cap on numbers. David Green, of Worcester University, said universities should be able to accommodate more students than the 350,000 annual limit.
He said: ‘Every individual university has a number imposed on it by the Government and if it exceeds the number of new students, even by one, it is fined.
‘It’s a false economy. The Government is saving money if people go to university because they don’t go on to the dole queue that costs £2,500 a year in benefits payments alone. The Government should lift the cap.’