Admissions teams at UK universities are preparing for clearing to be more competitive than ever this year, after a drop in applications put students firmly in the driving seat.
With some institutions still looking to expand following the lifting of student number controls in England, sector leaders predicted that some institutions would lower their entry requirements in a bid to secure students when exam results are released next week.
Universities with mid-range requirements are most likely to be squeezed in the race for recruitment, it has been suggested.
Overall, applications to UK universities were down 4 per cent this year, with significant drops in the number of European Union and mature students combining with the long-term decline in the size of the youth population.
“Clearing will be as competitive as previous years, if not more so because of the demographic dip,” said Christina Edgar, head of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Sheffield. “It is going to be a great year for students,” she added.
Mike Nicholson, director of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Bath, said that there would be only a “very small” number of universities not looking to take students through clearing this year.
He said that institutions are likely to make offers to students with lower grades than in previous years in a bid to secure them amid the competition.
“A lot of universities have already made unconditional offers to students. If they are prepared to do that, then they are going to be prepared to make lower offers,” he said.
Following the release of the teaching excellence framework results, some institutions may try to use their performance in this exercise to lure in students, Mr Nicholson added.
“Universities that have a gold rating will be pushing hard to promote this in their publicity campaigns,” he said.
Mr Nicholson predicted that institutions that accept students with mid-range entry grades were likely to be most affected by the competitiveness of clearing this year. The most selective institutions will dip into the pool of students with grades lower than they would usually accept, he said.
But at the same time, students attending low-tariff universities, who often look at factors such as location and cultural ties when deciding where to study, will not necessarily look to upgrade to a medium-tariff institution. This leaves these medium-tariff institutions “likely to take the hit” on clearing recruitment, he said.
Sir Ian Diamond, vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and deputy chair of Ucas, said that it did “no one any favours” to drop entry requirements too low. Universities need to make sure that students have the background to succeed on the courses that they are accepted on to, he said.
The competitiveness of clearing was the new normal in the wake of the lifting of the numbers cap in England, Sir Ian added. “There is always a competition for the best students in clearing,” he said.