Strikes leave admissions offices clearing on the day

August 20, 1999

Universities were this week playing down the impact of strikes by members of the Association of University Teachers that were threatening to disrupt clearing yesterday and today.

"We are pretty laid-back about the start of clearing," said a spokeswoman for Lancaster University. "We do not expect any significant disruption as a lot of admissions work goes on centrally in administration. All the phones will be covered from there on Thursday."

A similar picture emerged at Durham University. "We are expecting to provide a normal service," said Keith Seacroft, public relations officer.

At Leeds, a spokeswoman said there were two telephone numbers available for enquiries and both would be fully operational. "We have asked those students who get the required grades not to call us unnecessarily," she said. "But if anyone wants to talk, someone will be here."

Last year, of 5,000 candidates who achieved the right grades on results day, more than half telephoned the university. Of a total of about 5,200 places this year, Leeds expects to fill about 350 student places through clearing.

Hull University was taking no chances. Admissions officer Sheila Dowling said the university was gearing up for the usual frantic 48 hours "when all hell breaks loose" by using the internet for the first time.

Students will be able to tap in to the university's special clearing site for vacancies listings - updated several times a day - and even make an application electronically. "We already get a lot of email traffic from potential students," said Ms Dowling.

"Using the internet means our vacancies should be bang up to date, and we hope this will speed up the process although really it's just another way of letting students get in touch with us, even if the phone lines are jammed." About 12 per cent of Hull's places are expected to be filled through clearing.

But despite claims of ineffectual AUT action, it has been sufficient to provoke an outburst from education secretary David Blunkett, who said that the union could score a major own goal by preventing students from entering university, which in turn could affect lecturing jobs.

The union hit back by telling Mr Blunkett that he misunderstood the purpose of the industrial action. General secretary David Triesman said there was no question of a downturn in student numbers and therefore no question of lecturers scoring an own goal as far as their jobs were concerned.

Even without the added disruption, universities are in for a hectic few days.

About 250,000 people, mainly school-leavers, received their A-level results yesterday and most have applied to university. As of June, 406,323 people had applied to enter higher education. Up to 50,000 more will apply before term starts.

The AUT is also boycotting any administrative work associated with quality inspection and the forthcoming research assessment exercise. However, both the Quality Assurance Agency and the funding councils' RAE managers say that they have barely noticed the boycott.

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