They're going, going, gone: Wolverhampton

August 27, 2004

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

Clearing is a cocktail of "handholding, career advice and optimism", according to one of the call-centre operators at Wolverhampton University.

The 70 or so academic and support staff from across ten faculties working in the call centre are expected to take about 20,000 inquiries between the day A-level results are published and the close of applications in mid-September.

About 10 per cent of the university's first-year intake will come through clearing, or about 400.

Some of those calling will simply want confirmation that their place is secure; others who failed to make the grade for their first choice will want another chance.

A few were distraught, some so much so that their parents made the call to the clearing centre on their behalf.

A small theatre on the out-of-town Compton campus was converted for the task, with computers begged and borrowed from university buildings across the city.

The help centre is the culmination of two months' training in how the clearing system works. This included learning about how each candidate's details should be logged on computer, the criteria for accepting or rejecting an application for a place, and how to weigh up the UK's 4,000 different qualifications.

The staff work in three shifts between 8am and 9pm, although many are old hands at clearing and have been working through the day.

By midday on A-level results day, some healthcare courses, including midwifery, were full and were closed to further applications.

But staff remained to advise callers of other routes they could take and other courses they could consider.

John Brooks, the university's vice-chancellor, said: "It's a great start to the year. It's something we get very energised about. There's a real buzz when you speak to someone who is confused, uncertain and who might be demotivated - and suddenly you give them what is a real life chance."

Most of the calls came from students local to the Black Country and the West Midlands, but not all of them fitted the image of the disappointed teenager whose A-level grades had failed to secure them a place on their first-choice course or at their preferred university.

Some were college students who had had their results but had waited until clearing before making their first application.

Other callers were potential mature students, people who may have qualifications dating back years, whose thoughts had turned to taking a degree or diploma because of the media focus on A levels, clearing and university entry at this time of year.

Tuition fees and the costs of study have been a source of confusion for many callers to the centre. Professor Brooks said: "Often, students make decisions about starting a course and staying on a course due to a combination of academic difficulty and financial constraints.

"We talk to them about the totality of that right at the start."

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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