Another rise in A-level pass rates and the highest ever proportion of top grades are fuelling the student transfer market.
Admissions staff are being confronted with students shopping around for the most prestigious place their better-than-expected grades can buy. Some 95.4 per cent of A-level entrants passed this year and 21.6 per cent gained the top grade.
Jacqueline Henshaw, head of admissions and recruitment at the University of Manchester, said: "Applicants are increasingly viewing themselves as consumers and often have no qualms about asking to be released from a commitment to try to trade up if results are better than expected."
She added that admissions officers should ensure students' decisions were sound and not made on a whim on results day.
Richard Delahaye, manager of the clearing centre at London Metropolitan University, which takes 40 per cent of its students through clearing, said that not all students applied through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
He said: "You do get a lot of shopping around from students who have achieved beyond their wildest expectations or had a change of heart. Also a lot of people are not applying through Ucas as, in certain subjects, they know they can shop around through clearing.
"There is a new trend of 17-year-olds trying their arm and ringing up to try to get in a year early with four AS levels. We tell them they don't qualify."
Marlon Gomes, admissions manager at Queen Mary, University of London, said:
"We have been advising candidates who are shopping around that unless they come through clearing we can't accept them. Until they've spoken to their first choice, we can't speak to them."
Early indications were that clearing would run smoothly. More than 40,000 students were expected to find a place through the process. This represents a rise in total numbers on previous years, although a smaller overall proportion of students now find their university place through clearing.
Ucas said that the transmission of A-level results to universities and colleges had been faster and smoother than ever before, meaning that places on courses were being confirmed in record time.
But the gap between the number of people taking A levels and the number progressing to university remains significant.
The number of A-level entries was up 7 per cent this year, against a background of a 4.1 per cent rise in the number of 18-year-olds, according to the Joint Council for General Qualifications. Yet Ucas recorded a rise of just 1.5 per cent in the number of English school-leavers applying for university.
Next year, Scotland could face a slump in applications for certain courses because of a sharp fall in the pass rate for Higher English. The rate fell from 64.7 per cent last year to 59.2 per cent this year, with 29,600 entries.
* Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University and chair of the government's university admissions group, this week came out in favour of a post-qualifications admissions system. A Department for Education and Skills task force is investigating how such a system could work and will report in the autumn.
'I'VE STRUCK ELITIST OXBRIDGE OFF MY LIST'
A further education student who is expected to gain five grade As at A level was put off applying for an Oxbridge place by the "elitist" attitude of recruiters.
David Mycock, a student at Derby College, attended a recruitment fair in Manchester sponsored by Oxford and Cambridge, but struck both universities off his Ucas form because he felt the institutions' representatives were "looking down their nose" at him and other FE students.
He explained: "I didn't feel comfortable with the elitist outlook Oxbridge seemed to have. They talked down to me when they discovered I was at college and seemed to think that meant I wasn't clever enough. Everything they said was all about what I could do for them rather than what they could do for me."
He has decided instead to accept a conditional offer for a place on a masters in chemistry at Nottingham University.
As The THES went to press, his tutors at Derby were confident that he would meet Nottingham's offer.