A record number of courses have been offered through clearing this year, a total of 14,500 compared with 11,000 last year. In all 211,678 students have so far accepted places compared to 197,971 by this stage last year.
Nationally the picture is of pragmatic and clued-up students, capable of using clearing to their best advantage. At the University of the West of England in Bristol, A-level hopefuls have reinforced this pattern. Oliver Jenkins, an 18-year-old from South London said: "I was gutted in the morning when I realised I couldn't get a place at my first choice; but by the afternoon I'd phoned other universities and got offers to do biological sciences at three other places."
He went along in person to UWE and decided that this was the place he wanted, promptly filling in his clearing forms to confirm his place there and then.
Dianne Francombe, head of admissions and student recruitment at UWE, confirmed this general trend in the phone calls her 31 staff have been fielding in the clearing process. "Students know more about clearing than a few years ago, they are better prepared for failing to get grades, and even in the first place are spreading course choices out so they don't limit themselves."
Although student resilience must be welcomed, institutions like UWE are not complacent, and Ms Francombe admitted: "Of course there are always a few who are upset and disappointed, but we have trained staff to discuss their options with them and to offer support. Once they have come to terms with their results they will often see the advantage of studying a similar course or combination of subjects where there are still vacancies."
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service has insisted that there are places for everyone if students are prepared to be flexible, but Ms Francombe pointed out that it was wiser if students were flexible about where they study, while retaining the principle of what they want to study.
This concern was echoed by Jim Murphy, NUS president. "Colleges are expecting the dropout rate to go up because many will make quick decisions about courses and colleges they may regret later. NUS is advising A-level students to think carefully before accepting their offers through clearing," he said.
At UWE, other trends confirm the continued popularity of subjects such as law, business, education and psychology. Last year, a quarter of the university's applicants were from Avon and the surrounding counties, and this seems to have increased this year, supporting the 150-200 mile rule, the threshold distance from home that many students prefer to keep to. UWE has also sought to be particularly responsive to students with GNVQs. It has worked with UCAS and the Gloucestershire College of Art and Technology to match GNVQs with HE courses.
"These qualifications offer a positive and wider range of skills and our in-depth evaluation has shown that they are relevant to the vocational courses we offer."