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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Applications to British universities are soaring as the jobs market shrinks, with the steepest rises among mature students, official figures show.
But thousands of student hopefuls face disappointment after a government decision to cap the number of additional university places, a national student organization warned.
Just over 524,000 people have applied to start courses this autumn, a rise of nine percent, according to applications body UCAS.
Applications from those aged 25 and older saw a 16 percent jump as people seek a haven from Britain's worst recession in decades.
Government data on Wednesday showed the numbers seeking work climbed by 177,000 to 2.1 million in the three months to February, the biggest rise since 1991.
The government said last October it was imposing a 10,000 cap on extra student numbers at English universities because of financial pressures.
The National Union of Students (NUS) calculated this meant at least 28,000 people who have applied to universities in England would be left without a place this year and called on the government to increase funding.
"Applicants of all ages are clearly making the correct assessment that it is better to invest now in their education and training," said NUS President Wes Streeting.
"We understand the current pressures on public finances, but the government must also make the right long-term decisions.
"It is surely better to bear the cost of additional university places now than to shoulder the burden of long-term unemployment later."
Universities UK, representing more than 100 university chiefs, said competitions for places on high-demand courses would be "particularly fierce."
"We expect a challenging admissions period this summer due to the restriction on the number of undergraduate places that will be funded this year, said the body's chief executive Diana Warwick.
Editing by Steve Addison