Education secretary David Blunkett says: "The government is deeply committed to increasing and widening access to higher education."
But its higher education policies are having the opposite effect. Applications in all subject areas, bar one, are down. Students are bewildered by the government's policies.
There are no clear guidelines on who will be exempt from fees and many fear the debt that the loss of maintenance grants entails. A survey this week shows only white males to be impervious to the fear of debt.
Fluctuating student numbers and the rush this year, followed by a possible fall for 1998/99, come on top of an already precarious financial position for universities. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is predicting deficits across the sector.
And further education, the bridgehead to higher education, is being forced to turn students away when government hopes to increase numbers by 500,000.