Tens of thousands of people could miss out on a university place this year following record numbers of applications.
Some 660,953 people have applied to start full-time undergraduate courses this autumn, up 11.6% on the same point last year.
And if last year’s pattern is repeated, tens of thousands more will apply before the September deadline, the BBC has reported.
The Universities and College Union (UCU) fears up to 170,000 people could be denied places. This comes despite an extra 10,000 places being offered in England this year, in mainly science and maths departments.
Universities UK warned funding limits meant universities would not be able to meet demand by taking on any extra students.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Today’s figures show demand for higher education in the UK remains very solid and that competition for places will be intense again this year.
“It is quite likely therefore that more qualified applicants will fail to secure places this year.”
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt cautioned that funding cuts to higher education would create a “lost generation” of learners.
She said: “Today’s figures make frightening reading. Other countries are increasing the number of graduates to compete in a high-skill knowledge economy, yet our government seems intent on doing the opposite.”
Figures from Ucas also show the number of female applicants is up 12.4%, while the number of male applicants rose 10.5%.
And a large proportion of applicants – some 56,960 – are individuals who have previously applied.
Applications from all age groups are up on last year’s figures, with those from older applicants seeing the largest percentage rise.
Yesterday, the government announced the introduction of a graduate tax to help students pay for tuition fees.
Last week, a survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters found graduate vacancies were expected to drop by nearly 7% in 2010.