University clearing may be far quieter than in previous years, despite the government making 30,000 extra student places available, vice-chancellors have predicted.
With universities able to exceed their student number quotas by 6 per cent this year – as opposed to 3 per cent last year – before they are fined for over-recruitment, some pundits have predicted record levels of activity as institutions seek to expand their undergraduate intake.
And A-level grades, revealed on results day on 14 August, were expected to decline this year because of the end of January exams. That would mean many students missing out on their required marks, finding themselves unplaced and entering clearing.
But Nick Foskett, vice-chancellor of Keele University, said that the clearing window is “not the event it once was”, with universities likely to focus on students who applied directly to them.
Institutions are more likely to use their 6 per cent buffer to make more offers or be more flexible if a student just misses out on the marks required by their offer, said Professor Foskett.
“Most universities have been able to say yes to a student if they miss out by one grade – I suspect students under-achieving by more than one grade will be accepted this year,” he said.
“It will mean that there will be fewer students in clearing than in the past,” he added.
Universities have also realised that there is little benefit in trying to poach high-achieving students from competitors in clearing, continued Professor Foskett.
Only 800 18-year-old applicants transferred to a different course after gaining better scores last year, Ucas has said.
Data released by Ucas confirm that universities stepped up their recruitment efforts during the main applications system, with 12,000 more students than last year (an increase of 3 per cent) holding a conditional offer ahead of A-levels results day.
David Maguire, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich, also believed that universities may not fill the 30,000 extra places available as they do not want to take the students with far lower grades that are generally available in clearing.
“They are not minting any more high-quality students,” said Professor Maguire.
“There are individual vice-chancellors who might want to expand student numbers [with lower grade applicants], but most quality providers – the well-established public universities – will be concerned about reputation,” he added.
However, some small modern universities might want to “expand at the bottom end” of the market as it would help them to reach “critical mass”, continued Professor Maguire.
Janet Graham, director of Supporting Professionalism in Admissions, which works with admissions staff, said that she did not expect all 30,000 places to be filled.
“It’s an awful lot more students to take in a single year,” she said.
“The system has cranked up to meet the extra capacity, but 30,000 in one year is a lot to ask,” she added.