Don's diary: Clearing at Greenwich

August 23, 2002

Thursday, August 15: A-level results day

Bathway, London's largest students' union venue, is our clearing helpline base for the next few weeks. Brightly coloured banners hang from the roof of the converted Victorian swimming pool. A photographer from London's Evening Standard prowls the main clearing floor.

We have 50 telephone operators backed up by 50 academics, admissions tutors and advisers. They aim to work together to give callers all the information they need in just one phone call.

Pep talk. Today is important - the culmination of six months of planning. Some courses are already full, but we need to find good candidates for others.

Check our marketing strategies. The ad campaign looks good in the daily papers, my interview with a local radio station has been playing all morning, and I am quoted in The Daily Mirror .

Lines open and the phones start ringing straight away. First call is from a student with an HNC in computing studies - a reminder that not all applicants are sixth-formers with A levels.

Our first offer of a place. The HNC student is a strong candidate for BSc computing and information systems.

The switchboard trips over to Room 101 - not the place of nightmares but our overflow room, where admin staff help out - which means we are averaging more than 40 callers at once. Staff from the vice-chancellor's office pitch in.

TV crew arrives to interview the pro vice-chancellor. Asked about "dumbing down", he says it is no surprise that young people are doing well in A levels - in our advanced economy, it would be a scandal if they were not.

There is a buzz now as hundreds of hopeful applicants hit the phones. Beautiful campuses, lots of investment in facilities and interesting new courses, such as criminology and creative industries, make Greenwich popular.

It's really hotting up now. We have taken more than 2,000 calls - breaking all records. I try to bear in mind that these are not just numbers, but individuals.

I know that people who don't get their grades aren't necessarily failures. I did badly in my A levels the first time, retook them, went on to university and have stayed in education since, working as a lecturer and researcher.

Make an emergency dash to the cash machine to pay for sandwiches. No one else leaves the phones.

One applicant for BSc sports science rings from the golf course. He gets a place - he has the A levels and, clearly, the interest.

A young woman has disappointing results but we consider her circumstances - her mum died shortly before the exams - and offer a place in biomedical sciences. Others ring in with queries about loans, fees, jobs, accommodation and anxieties about leaving home.

One real delight is the way we have coped with the biggest change in sixth-form education for 50 years. Most school-leavers now have AS levels. Hours of planning and training have paid off and we have handled applications smoothly from the outset.

Greenwich is getting many more calls than expected. Engineering is buoyant, and computing, business and law are always popular.

We have worked our socks off. The final tally: 3,854 calls. Roll on registration!

Dai Hall is head of recruitment and marketing, University of Greenwich.

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