More than 409,000 students have been accepted on to UK higher education courses as A-level results are announced, a record high and a rise of 3 per cent on the same point last year.
Figures from admissions service Ucas show that this includes 362,000 applicants who have been accepted on to their first-choice course, also up 3 per cent compared to 2014.
The number of 18-year-olds placed on degree courses is up 5 per cent year-on-year, with a 2 per cent rise in the number of 19-year-old entrants, but there are fewer acceptances from older age groups.
There has been a 4 per cent rise in the number of young UK students from the least advantaged backgrounds who have obtained places, Ucas said.
At the same time, the gender gap in university admissions continues to widen, with 27,000 more young women than men set to enrol.
Meanwhile, the percentage of A-level entries to have achieved an A grade or better fell for the fourth year running, from 26 per cent last year to 25.9 per cent. This compares with 27 per cent in 2011.
The proportion of A* grades remained at 8.2 per cent, exactly the same as in 2014.
This is the first year that student number controls have been lifted for universities in England, with many higher education institutions looking to expand their undergraduate population.
Sector observers predict that universities wishing to grow are likely to accept students who fall just short of their predicted grades, and to make more places available via clearing.
But the fact that the expansion of some institutions is likely to be at the expense of others is expected to leave admissions staff facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty.
The Ucas statistics show that the number of students who are free to be placed via clearing on A-level results day is 147,000, down 4 per cent on last year.
The number of applicants who are already placed after having entered the Ucas process at the clearing stage was up 17 per cent year-on-year, to nearly 2,000.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, welcomed the admissions data and highlighted that more students than ever before would be taking up science, engineering and maths-based courses.
“This is great news and shows that by lifting the cap on student numbers, we are helping more people than ever benefit from higher education and gain the skills that businesses seek to boost productivity and support growth,” Mr Johnson said.
The number of European Union-domiciled, non-UK students placed via Ucas as of results day has risen by 11 per cent on last year, to more than 24,000, while acceptances of ex-EU international students have increased by 6 per cent to more than 29,000.
More than 500,000 students were ultimately admitted to UK universities last year, and Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said that she expected numbers to be “similar again this year”.
“Students should be proud of what they have achieved and those who have chosen to go to university can look forward to the life-changing opportunities that a university course offers,” Ms Dandridge said.
Students who are yet to be accepted on to a course can start exploring their options through Ucas’ clearing service this morning, and will be able to make a formal clearing choice from 5pm onwards.