Record numbers of students secure degree place through clearing

Many students who achieve grades requested by original offer choosing to release themselves into clearing, figures show

September 21, 2023
Source: iStock

A record number of UK 18-year-olds have secured a place at university through clearing, figures show.

Earlier figures from A-level results day in August revealed that fewer students gained a place at their preferred university after regulators sought to return exam grades to pre-pandemic levels.

Data released by the admissions service Ucas 28 days on shows that 38,140 18-year-olds from the UK secured a place via clearing in 2023 – up 15 per cent on last year, and 16 per cent on 2019, before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on grades.

The data confirms the trend previously highlighted by the consultancy dataHE, which estimated that record numbers of the 2023 cohort had missed the high grades they were predicted by teachers.

Those estimates indicated that 55,000 UK 18-year-olds did not receive the high grades their teachers had forecast, meaning that 9 per cent of applicants were placed in clearing, up from 7 per cent in 2022.

The latest Ucas data indicates that growing numbers of students who were placed at their firm choice are using clearing to secure a new spot elsewhere.

In total, 16,040 UK 18-year-old applicants found a new course after releasing themselves from a previously held choice – up from 14,760 in 2022, and 12,170 in 2019.

Sander Kristel, interim chief executive at Ucas, said clearing used to be perceived as a process to support students who did not achieve the marks needed to claim their original offer, but now this could not be further from the truth.

“We’ve also seen record numbers of students exercising choice later in the cycle, revisiting their options for a range of reasons personal to them,” he added.

Clearing remains open until 17 October, with more than 23,000 courses and over 8,000 apprenticeship opportunities available.

Including all ages and nationalities, 67,990 students have found a place using clearing.

Of these, 32 per cent found a place after declining their original firm choice, 30 per cent secured a place after not meeting the terms of their offer and being released into clearing on results day, and the rest either applied directly into clearing or held no firm choice.

“Today’s numbers show the continuing attraction of UK higher education across the globe, and also a return to normal growth following the surge of demand seen during the pandemic,” said Mr Kristel.

“For me, today’s numbers show that we need to continue our collective efforts in closing the gap in participation for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The record numbers of young people using clearing to secure a place at university should be relief to the sector, following warnings that the high levels of “applicant disappointment” could lead to many deciding to walk away from higher education altogether.

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