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updated 1/4/2011 10:01:33 PM ET 2011-01-05T03:01:33

The United Kingdom is on course to set two higher education records.

One is a record number of applicants; the other, a record number of turndowns, according to British media reports.

Both are due to a near tripling of course fees in England planned in 2012. By Christmas an unprecedented 344,000 candidates had applied to secure admissions for autumn 2011. That's 8,000 more than had applied by the same time in 2009 for fall 2010 admission.

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At the end of last year's admissions process, 209,000 applicants were left without a place, the BBC reported.

If this year's pace continues, it will result in about 705,500 people applying for a university education this year – up from the record of 688,310 last year, the Daily Telegraph of London reported. That would result in almost 226,500 applicants missing a place completely – about a third of those seeking one of the 479,000 expected vacancies. Officials have frozen the number of places available at last year's level.

The freeze drew criticism from Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union.

"Rationing higher education, and making it more expensive, at a time when the rest of the world is investing in universities will seriously risk our standing on the world stage," she said.

According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, demand among English students runs particularly high as their 2012 tuition will be 9,000 pounds (about $14,000), the Telegraph reported.

Wales officials plan to hold fees Welsh students while those from Scotland will continue to pay no fees at all, the Daily Telegraph said. Northern Ireland fees for 2012 are not ready.

Universities minister David Willetts said that demand for university places was "likely to increase. Going to university has always been a competitive process and not all those who apply will be accepted."

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Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, warned that many well-qualified applicants will "have the door slammed in their faces again."

He told the Daily Telegraph: "The imposition of an arbitrary limit on the number of students will halt the aspiration of well-qualified students of all ages and restrict access to high-level skills at a time of growing unemployment, and when it is essential to invest in economic recovery."

Many students are abandoning plans for a gap year to move straight into higher education, said officials, who also noted a sharp increase in the number of students who are reapplying after being rejected last year.

Applications also are on the rise from older students and European Union students eligible for government-backed loans.

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