Twice-yearly start dates for university courses are growing in popularity amid fears of falling applications and disappointing enrolments.
Several universities have introduced courses that run twice a year - starting in autumn and in spring. The arrangement allows them to accept applicants who did not initially have a university place without the students missing the start of the course.
Most institutions that offer this entry route are having to work hard to recruit sufficient numbers to fill traditional full-time courses that start in the autumn. Most have to rely heavily on the clearing process.
Precise figures for this autumn's enrolments will not be known until next month, but those institutions that have seen the number of applications fall are more likely to have introduced twin start dates.
For example, Thames Valley University - which enrols almost as many students in February as in September - saw its applications for autumn entry fall by 12 per cent last summer, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
London Guildhall University and the University of North London - which merged to become London Metropolitan University - saw applications fall by more than 9.1 per cent each. Middlesex University saw its applications fall by 8.8 per cent and Staffordshire University by 5.5 per cent. All four offer twin start dates.
Applications for spring entry are made direct to the university, so the figures do not show up in data compiled by Ucas.
A Thames Valley spokesman said there was pressure on the university to expand its student numbers and admitted that "if there's growth, it will be minimal".
He said: "Each year, slightly more students start courses in February. More people know that universities are offering February starts. This is the fourth year that we have done it in a serious way."
London Metropolitan is extending spring entry to more of its courses. A spokesman said that North London had long accepted students for entry in January but, since the merger with London Guildhall, spring entry had been extended.
He said: "We have the luxury of saying to people seeking late entry that they have missed too much of the course but they can start in the spring. We have two bites of the same apple."
Middlesex is encouraging students to apply for courses starting at the end of January.
Staffordshire has numerous January-start courses. Chris Alcock of the university's admissions office said: "We are still piloting this idea, but at the moment we think it is very popular with students. We don't want those students to miss out on the opportunity of coming here to study."
- Some 22 per cent more people have applied to read medicine next year, according to figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. More than 3,100 people had applied to courses in medicine by October 15. There was also an 18 per cent rise in the number of applicants to dentistry courses. Numbers of students applying to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge increased 7.1 per cent to 26,800.