Record results expected in this year's A levels could mean a speedy end to clearing. If, as predicted, more students make their hoped-for grades next week, fewer will be fighting for left-over vacancies. But it will also mean fewer places in the clearing pot.
Last year even the most popular subjects, including medicine, law and media studies, were still making clearing offers through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Tony Higgins, UCAS chief executive, said that if universities only had a few spare places they were more likely to make a direct approach to existing applicants who had only just missed their grades rather than going through UCAS. Clearing would therefore be over more quickly than usual.
This is the first year in which significant numbers of A-level students have taken modular courses, which are examined over short periods rather than all at the end of the academic year. It has led to predictions of dramatically improved results, since modular courses allow students to resit during the year.
So far this year more than 81,226 applicants without offers eligible for clearing, of whom more than 340 have already been placed.
Last year, a total of 41,000 applicants out of 150,000 in clearing found a place - 47 per cent at an institution they had not previously considered.
Institutions must send UCAS all decisions on conditional offers by August 24 so all applicants should know whether or not they have a place by August or 28.
Threats of a postal strike meant UCAS was considering expensive contingency measures, including laying on extra telephone staff and advertising every result in the national press.
But the Communication Workers Union has agreed not to strike on days which would affect distribution of results.