Ucas Extra, which was launched in March to match applicants without places to universities with spaces, will fail to dent the numbers of students entering clearing next Thursday. Just 10 per cent of applicants without a place have been offered one through the scheme.
More than 20,000 hopefuls were eligible to use the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service's new scheme after they received no offers. But less than a quarter of them took part and just 2,700 students have gained a place in this way.
Clearing remains popular with students who want to use it strategically, according to Jacqueline Henshaw, head of undergraduate recruitment and admissions at the University of Manchester.
She said: "Over the past two or three years there has been an increase in the number of people asking to be released."
But she said there would still be demand from people who failed to get the grades.
Repeated failure to gain a place could also deter people from using Ucas Extra, she said. Manchester received about 100 Ucas Extra applications and made offers to 40 of them.
Brunel University has pulled out of the clearing process after expanding over the past few years. Adrian Godfrey, assistant registrar for admissions, said: "We believe that we can recruit enough undergraduates with the required A-level tariff score without entering clearing. This year, we are looking at more stability. Our undergraduate intake will be reduced slightly."
Others have made an early start. At the University of Sussex, potential students can already browse vacancies that will be available when the clearing process starts on August 14. Potential students can also sign up for an electronic update of vacancies at the University of the West of England.
* University mathematicians have welcomed changes to the A-level maths syllabus announced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority this week.
The changes, which will place more emphasis on pure maths from summer 2005, are being introduced because the number of students taking maths has fallen by a fifth since 2001. A third of candidates failed the first AS level.
Charles Goldie, a former chair of the Heads of Departments of Mathematical Sciences, said universities would be able to build on the common core, although remedial classes would still be needed.