University resources will be stretched even further next year as institutions take in more students with poorer A-level grades.
Lecturers will have to work harder to get larger numbers of students with D and E grade A levels up to the standards required to avoid first-year failure. Universities are under pressure from government to cut dropout rates.
Paul Cottrell, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "More and more people are coming into higher education who need more help. Universities are having to do much more of the work that should have been done in schools, because of a lack of investment in the system.
"If you have a broader range of people entering higher education and standards are being maintained, then someone is filling the gap and putting in the extra effort - and I have no doubt that it is our members."
A-level standards have risen - there are more grade As and more passes, according to the results published yesterday. But the rise in people with better grades is outstripped by the number of extra places available for students in the 2000-01 academic year.
The proportion of A-level entries awarded at A grade was up 0.3 per cent - 840 papers - on last year to 17.8 per cent. The proportion of entries that passed also increased by 0.6 per cent - 1,680 papers - to 89.1 per cent. The numbers of papers can only be equated roughly with people because an individual may get A grades or passes in more than one paper.
Yet more than 52,000 extra places for students will be available in the coming year. Some 17,000 of these places will be for full-time students - an increase of 2 per cent.
Universities are introducing initiatives to help students with lower A-level grades and non-traditional entry qualifications, such as National Vocational Qualifications, to succeed.
Students enrolling at London Guildhall University, for example, will be the first to be offered summer schools to consolidate learning and tackle any specific problems that emerge during the coming year.
Deian Hopkin, vice-provost of London Guildhall University, said: "We have always believed that we should give our students a wide range of support. It is particularly important for students who don't have the tradition of books at home."
Leslie Wagner, vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, said: "The number of students studying at the university has grown significantly over the past decade and the government is projecting further growth. Along with growth and diversity, there is also the expectation that more students will successfully complete their courses."
John Slater, who has just retired from his post as pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching at the University for Kent to join the Institute for Learning and Teaching, said: "With the changing government agenda, supporting students in different ways is becoming more important. We are seeing a plethora of support services - counselling, learning support and financial guidance - that are capable of talking to one another and providing a professional service. The costs come in joining them up."
Staff will also have to steer students through increasing financial difficulties.