A HEADTEACHER has warned a generation of young people could be unable to fulfil their potential unless significant investment is made in higher education.

Chris Bryan, headteacher at St Birinus School in Didcot, said high quality sixth formers were being turned down from top universities because of lack of space.

Mr Bryan quizzed Government minister David Willetts during his visit to Oxford last week and asked whether pupils should bother applying to university at all.

Didcot Sixth Form, which includes pupils from the two Didcot secondary schools, St Birinus and Didcot Girls School, has 400 pupils, 71 per cent of whom applied to universities for the September 2010 year.

Mr Bryan said: “We’ve got some extraordinarily able students who should have been awarded places at some of the country’s top universities, but who have not been accepted simply because of the lack of places available. They are people of the right calibre, but the places are just not there.”

Universities minister Mr Willetts visited the city last week to make his first major keynote speech.

Mr Bryan asked him whether he should be encouraging more of his pupils to apply for university, or warning them that it would prove tougher than ever to find places.

Mr Willetts insisted 10,000 additional places had been created, but there was a 16 per cent increase in applications on the previous year.

He said careers advisers should, where appropriate, point students towards other routes such as apprenticeships.

But Mr Bryan added: “We need as a nation to be encouraging as many people to go on to higher education as we can and there needs to be a massive investment if we are going to compete with our international rivals.

“What we don’t want is a whole generation of young people feeling dissatisfied because they have achieved well at school and gained good academic qualifications, but are then let down by the lack of opportunities for them to go on to a degree course at university.

“There is a big danger we are going to have a huge pool of untapped talent at the very time when we should be investing in education and supporting the nation’s economic future.”

Mr Bryan called for a clear commitment from the Government to support higher education and help young people realise their ambitions.

He said: “We’re working really hard to improve standards at GCSE then A Level, but now we face a cut off at 18 where young people are being deprived of their opportunity to continue with education.

“We have been very successful at raising aspirations and making our pupils see having an education is a good thing and will lead to better job prospects, but now they are not being offered places despite the fact they are well-qualified.”