Quarter more university places needed in 20 years, says uni minister

Universities minister David Willetts has said that the number of university places will have to rise by 25 per cent over the next two decades, to meet the demand from young people qualified to attend university.

In a report for the Social Market Foundation, Willetts stated that the number of places needed to reach 460,000 in 20 years’ time, compared to today’s 368,000.

Willetts based his calculations on the increasing number of university-age people as national demographics change and on expected higher standards of primary and secondary education, rather than economic predictions of how many graduate jobs may be available.

He added: “This is a far better approach. It puts the individual centre stage. And it recognises that the flow of graduates can itself change the structure of an economy.”

The report is intended as an update to a paper published in 1963 when 5 per cent of the population attended university and takes many of its guiding principles from it. The original paper argued that all students should be able to attend university, if academically able.

In his updated report, Willetts draws attention to changing demographics in the UK. Current students were born in the 1990s during a fall in birth rates but birth rates are now increasing and have already put pressure on nursery and primary school places.

Willetts believes that this shortage is due to hit universities and so calls for 96,000 extra places. He does not, however, suggest how this demand for extra places would be met.