Final figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that 339,747 students accepted places at United Kingdom universities in September - a 1.5 per cent increase on last year.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has not finalised its figures for 2000 entry, but it is understood that some institutions did not hit their targets.
In July, Hefce allowed universities to exceed their maximum aggregate student number (MASN) by 4 per cent. The previous limit was 2 per cent.
Some institutions have complained that this allowed popular universities to poach students, creating problems for a minority of others.
Sussex University exceeded its MASN by 1 per cent. Its academic registrar, Owen Richards, said: "We always planned to go above our MASN, but it was a bit harder to do this year. When Hefce allowed institutions to go 4 per cent above target, a number of high-demand institutions went out and mopped up students. This could have hit those institutions that rely on clearing."
A spokesman for Hefce said only a few institutions exceeded their targets by more than 4 per cent. "We do not believe that allowing institutions to go 4 per cent above target was detrimental to others," he said.
He said that in the year before fees were introduced, there was a bulge in student numbers. "These students left this summer, meaning that universities have had to significantly increase their first-year intake to match that."
Hefce is funding an extra 19,000 full-time places this year, but the number of young people reaching university age will not start to rise until after 2002.