Clearing, don't you just love it?

August 20, 2004

The annual clearing round is synonymous with frenzied activity, but at Paisley University all is serene.

The inquiry room, which is home to nine staff, is furnished in restful cream and sage, and there is no hubbub, simply quiet voices dispensing reassurance, writes Olga Wojtas.

Heather Bovell, team member, said: "The people on the other end of the phone can be frantic. The calming influence of a professional attitude helps them. It's part of our job to reassure them, and I would say in 98 per cent of cases where they haven't got the entry requirements, there's another option."

Scotland has a head start on England when it comes to clearing as Scottish Higher results are published earlier than A levels.

One of the first calls Ms Bovell took was from a mother who at first thought her son had the requisite three Highers. But a grade D he received in one exam fell short of the grade C's required for degree-level study.

"We started to discuss college opportunities, and she hadn't realised a higher national certificate or diploma would allow her son entry at a future date," Ms Bovell said. "Before the Highers, he'd been unwell and found the exam period extremely stressful. At college, it's continual assessment so maybe those one or two years would help him."

On the first day of clearing last week, the Paisley team fielded 500 calls, an average of 56 each, as well as dealing with online and email inquiries.

Last year, they dealt with some 10,000 phone and internet inquiries.

But Paisley boasts one of the most innovative, smooth-running systems in the country - University Direct. Paisley pioneered of a direct line-style service in 1996, offering places instantly over the phone.

Its bespoke software allows team members to log structured information about callers, matching their qualifications onscreen to entry requirements. Where they have narrowly missed entry criteria, the team can create a mini-CV of relevant experience and refer this to the course admissions officer.

The service runs all year but, during clearing, extra team members are carefully chosen. All have a link with Paisley: one, for example, has gone through its postgraduate careers guidance course.

Staff receive five days' intensive training and are mentored by the permanent staff. "We have our own identity," says Ms Black. "It's not just another call centre."

"I absolutely love clearing," Heather Bovell says. "You look forward to it rather than dread it. It's a real buzz."

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