Growing numbers of places in UK medical schools are expected to be filled via clearing this year, as universities battle over a shrinking pool of applicants.
Ahead of the release of A-level results on 16 August, sector leaders predicted that clearing will be more competitive than ever this year, driven by a 2 per cent drop in applications. Much of the decline is driven by the shrinking of the 18-year-old population, which has decreased by 2.3 per cent in England.
This, combined with the continuing impact of the uncapping of institutions’ student numbers and the increase in tuition fees, means that “students are increasingly in control when it comes to clearing”, said Mike Nicholson, director of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Bath.
“Medicine is a particularly interesting area this year,” he said. “Last year there were a few places available but this year the government has put an extra 500 medical school places into the pot, so we can expect to see a significant amount in clearing in comparison to previous years.”
Mr Nicholson added: “For students looking to go into medicine it's going to be a much easier year than all the time I've worked in admissions.”
Liz Carlile, head of admissions at the University of Sheffield, agreed. “There will be more clearing activity at medical schools than you would usually see,” she said.
“These courses are normally fully decided by the time people get their results. The places are strictly limited [unlike most other courses] so there hasn’t [in the past] been the opportunity for universities to decide to take the odd one or two more students here or there.”
Universities that are struggling to recruit are likely to lower their entry requirements in a bid to fill their places.
Lower-ranked institutions are likely to be squeezed particularly hard, in a continuation of a long-running trend that has seen more prestigious institutions taking students they would not previously have had space for.
“This is our last chance to be able to influence the numbers that we get this year. If we can't make it happen over the clearing period then the university carries forward those empty places on its financial plan,” Mr Nicholson said.
“Universities are going to be working hard to get students over the next few weeks and months. And they are more likely to be relaxed about what grades they accept.”
Ms Carlile added: “It’s worth students who didn’t get an offer or what they wanted first time round to see what’s available because there will likely be more wiggle room than normal.”
Another manifestation of the intense competition between universities has been the continuing rapid growth in the use of unconditional offers. Figures released by Ucas last week showed that nearly a quarter (22.9 per cent) of 18-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received at least one unconditional offer this year. In 2013, this figure was just 1.1 per cent.
In 2018, the number of unconditional offers increased 32 per cent on the 2017 level to 67,915. Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, described the rise as “completely irresponsible” and said that the Office for Students would be “closely monitoring” the situation in England.