Students scramble for university places as pass rate hits record high


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The Independent Online

Record numbers of students started a frantic scramble for a dwindling number of university places last night.

The number seeking a place through clearing was 189,992, compared with 185,223 last year. The number of courses still with vacancies, however, fell from 33,105 a year ago to 29,409.

The fate of slightly more than 100,000 applicants is still unknown – leaving open the prospect of clearing numbers growing even more.

The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), was besieged by calls from students seeking advice and an online service helping students to track whether they had got a place crashed. At the height of the rush, the website was receiving 450 calls a second – four times the peak last year.

UCAS apologised to candidates but one computer expert said: "This is a poor performance from UCAS. A-level results day isn't a freak event that leads to an unexpected traffic surge. It's a set date." Figures showed more than 384,000 candidates had confirmed their places by mid-morning yesterday – up from 379,000 last year.

Several universities said they would not be joining clearing this year as they had already filled their places. The University of Essex said it would accept only students with A grades for the few places it had left. Union leaders warned that those who ended up without a place would find little help available for them to plot an alternative career.

The rush to find places followed the 29th consecutive year of improved results. The overall pass rate went up from 97.6 per cent to 97.8 per cent and there was a slight rise in the percentage of A* grades awarded, from 8.1 per cent to 8.2 per cent. However, the proportion of A grades – 27 per cent – was steady for the first time after 15 years of rises.

The National Association of Head Teachers called the results the "ideal antidote to gloom about riots".