11tenGroup, which says it supplies marketing and student recruitment services to around 100 universities in the UK, the US, Europe and Asia, also said that some institutions were slashing their entry requirements in a bid to make up their student numbers.
Peter Cunningham, 11tenGroup director, said the firm had picked up on massively increased activity in clearing through its contacts with the media and universities.
“This clearing period has been different from any other,” he said. Clearing supplements in newspapers such as the Metro, the London Evening Standard and The Independent are “completely full” of advertising, Mr Cunningham added, as universities scramble for students.
He added that universities were resorting to unusual measures to attract students, with some “middle-ranking” institutions taking the “unheard of” step of lowering their entry requirements to 140 points on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s tariff scale, the equivalent of DEE at A level.
The government’s AAB system, which allows universities unlimited recruitment of students with those grades or better in A-level and equivalent examinations, is likely to have led to expansion at some of the more selective universities.
This expansion will come at the expense of other institutions, who will lose out as the overall pool of students remains limited.
If universities do fail to hit their student number allocations, they will lose up to £9,000 per student per year for the duration of a three- or four-year course.
“There is nowhere near the volume [of student enquiries in clearing] as there has been in previous years and they [universities] are beginning to hurt. They are beginning to panic,” Mr Cunningham said.
He added: “Some institutions have shortfalls of nearly 2,000 students.”
Mr Cunningham said universities’ spending on marketing in clearing was between £7 million and £9 million last year.
“I think it is going to be a record year – the people who really benefit are the newspapers, the student portals and the websites,” he added.