They're going, going, gone: Kingston

August 27, 2004

Places are filling up via clearing, with students making fast but careful choices

Any school-leaver who wanted to study psychology at Kingston University would have had to get on the phone before 12.50pm last Thursday.

It took little more than four hours after phone lines opened on the day the A-level results were released for the remaining places on the course, one of the most popular this year, to be snapped up.

By the time a lunchtime trolley laden with sandwiches and drinks was wheeled into Kingston's main hall, which had been transformed into the clearing hotline centre, the 30 operators had taken more than 1,000 calls.

They were constantly busy, with calls queueing up non-stop. A message on a large video screen reminded operators of good phone etiquette: "Let the caller hang up on you!"

Most calls were from anxious students disappointed with their A-level grades, although a few had done better than expected and were trying to find a place on a course they thought was beyond their grasp. By the end of last Friday more than 3,500 calls had been taken.

Anthony Allen, the university's UK marketing manager and "clearing guru", as Sky News described him during its live reports from the hall, said that between 800 and 1,000 places would be filled through clearing.

The figure is down by as many as 400 on last year because Kingston's courses have been more popular, so a higher percentage of places were filled through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service applications system before clearing.

But Mr Allen stressed that clearing was still important and that many good-quality students were recruited during the process.

Prospective students calling the university last week seemed to be better prepared than in past years, he said. "They are asking a lot of the right questions and not making rash, panic choices."

Clare Haylor, one of the operators who screened calls and transferred them to appropriate faculty staff, knew exactly how prospective students felt, having been in that position herself last year.

The 20-year-old from Maidstone secured a place in psychology through clearing and also managed to get a room in a hall of residence.

She said most callers were "fairly realistic" about what their grades would allow them to study, although some "try to push it a bit". Many of her callers were interested in pharmacy, sciences and psychology.

Another operator, Sonia Raja, 23, who has just graduated with a degree in computer science, said that one caller knew her grades were not good enough for a degree and wanted to know about doing a higher national diploma instead.

Ms Raja said she had many inquiries about business management, accounting and finance, architecture and fashion.

A handful of students came to talk to advisers in person, but the vast majority let their fingers do the walking or logged on to Kingston's website to look for places. About 300 had done so within the first four hours of clearing.

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