4,000 university places filled and 150,000 may miss out

More than 190,000 would-be students were scrambling for a rapidly diminishing number of university places today as clearing continued.

About 4,000 vacancies had been snapped up by this morning, just a day into the process, according to figures published by the university admissions service UCAS.

In total, 190,183 people are eligible for the clearing process because they have had no offers, failed to make their grades or applied too late.

Some 4,083 applicants have already found a place through clearing.

This is down slightly on last summer, when 5,205 places had been taken at this point in the process. Around 18,000 courses have had places available, but the number is falling quickly.

As many as 150,000 students could miss out on university this year, UCAS has estimated.

Last year 47,600 students found places through clearing and it has been predicted that the number will be smaller this year.

Today's figures show that a massive 48,500 more people qualify for clearing now than at this point last year.

Record numbers of students have already taken up their offers confirmed by their chosen university or found a place through clearing, as they seek to secure their position.

Some 394,436 have been accepted, compared with 382,863 at this point last year - a rise of 11,573.

But more are waiting to hear if they have been accepted, the Ucas figures show.

This year 81,915 applicants are still waiting for a decision, compared with 79,528 last summer - a difference of 2,387.

A record 674,339 people applied to university this year, today's figures showed, up from 610,453 last year - an extra 63,886 applicants.

Clearing is the annual process of matching applicants to vacant university courses.

The drop in numbers finding a place through clearing this year could be due to fewer places being available.

A small-scale survey conducted by the Press Association showed there were just 1,800 clearing places available at 16 universities yesterday when the process opened - and most of those have already gone.

York University said it had fewer than 100 places available for clearing yesterday and all had gone by late afternoon, while Essex had around 200 places, and few are now left.

Manchester University started with 120 clearing places. By this morning that had dropped to 20. A spokesman said clearing for home applicants would be ending at 5pm today.

Southampton University had 60 places on offer, but they have all been taken, as have approximately 50 clearing places available at Nottingham.

Newcastle had 110 places, including 102 for science and maths-based subjects. All of these have been snapped up.

A spokesman for Loughborough University said they had less than 50 on offer yesterday morning and there were now only limited places left on five courses.

Glasgow had seven places available at its Dumfries campus.

The University of East Anglia put around 70 places into clearing, but all have been taken, while at Surrey 25 students had been offered places and there were 30 left.

Goldsmiths, in central London, had limited places on two courses.

Among the newer universities, Kingston had 250 places, and a spokesman said only a "handful" were left.

Buckinghamshire New University offered 50-100 places in sports, travel and business courses, while Worcester had about 300 places yesterday.

Thames Valley also started the clearing process with between 200 and 250 places, while York St John had none of their clearing vacancies left.

Several universities did not enter the process, or had no places available to put through clearing.

Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics, University College London, Edinburgh and Bristol do not use clearing.

Birmingham University, Imperial and Warwick did not have any clearing places, and Sheffield said it did not go into clearing for home students.

Cardiff University had a small number of places available on 25 different courses, but all have gone.

According to the Ucas website, Durham had no vacancies, while Exeter did not enter clearing.

The Ucas snapshot comes the day after A-level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were published.

About one in 12 exam entries (69,302 in total) were awarded one of the new A* grades, exceeding predictions, based on last year's results, that around 7% would get the top grade.

Overall, the pass rate rose for the 28th year in a row - with more than one in four entries (27%) gaining at least an A grade.

Universities Minister David Willetts has called for a radical overhaul of higher education.

He said there was a need to invest in alternatives to full-time courses, such as apprenticeships, amid fears that thousands of students could miss out on places..

He told the Press Association: "There are more places at university than ever before, but sadly there will be some people who apply to university and don't get a place, it has always been a competitive process."

He said Britain's problem had been having "all its eggs in one basket" with a focus on full-time university courses and "we need to invest in alternatives as well".

He suggested that disappointed students could also take part in voluntary work to "add something extra to their CV to increase their chance of getting a place at university next year".