Bonanza or bust

Universities report a frenzy of applications through clearing, but thousands of students will be left with nothing

August 21, 2009

The number of applicants chasing university places through clearing is 23 per cent higher this year than last, according to figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

A total of 141,669 people are currently eligible for clearing – the national mechanism for allocating the remaining university places – either because they have not been offered a place, have not met the conditions of their offers, or because they applied to university very late. This time last year, the figure was 115,048.

The numbers could rise even further because another 79,528 applicants are still waiting for a decision from their first-choice universities.

UCAS said 37,720 courses still had places available through clearing on 21 August, but it was unable to say how many places there were on each course.

It said modelling carried out in advance of the process predicted that 24,000 places would be filled through clearing, although this figure was subject to a number of caveats.

A fifth of these places have already been taken, UCAS said.

This year’s clearing process, which swung into action following the publication of A-level results on 20 August, has been the subject of intense scrutiny as record numbers of applications and rising A-level pass rates coincided with a government cap on the expansion of student numbers.

The number of searches for clearing vacancies suggests a level of desperation among applicants – UCAS reported that 1,237,532 searches have been carried out to date, compared with 693,837 over a similar period last year – an increase of 78 per cent. However, the admissions service has received only 3 per cent more phone calls than last year.

The most searched-for courses are law, economics, psychology, history, business and management, although Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and chair of the Million+ group representing post-1992 universities, urged potential students to be as “flexible” as possible when searching for a place through clearing.

More than 5,000 applicants have already found a place since clearing started – almost 2,000 more than this time last year – and 377,658 applicants have accepted places based on offers, a rise of 9 per cent year on year.

By midday on 21 August, the University of Gloucestershire said it had filled all its spaces, having received applications from more than 10,000 students for just 2,360 full-time places. Only about 20 places were available during this year’s clearing cycle.

Meanwhile, the University of Buckingham, which as the country’s only private university is not constrained by the government cap on expansion as are other institutions, said it had seen an “applications bonanza”, with treble the number of calls to its clearing hotline and double the number of offers compared with last year.

Clearing update: 25 August 2009

Around 80 per cent of the places available through clearing this year had been taken by mid-day on 25 August.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which oversees the national system for distributing the remaining places, said 17,800 places had been filled.

This figure compares with just 6,633 of 44,000 places at the same point in the process last year.

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