Clearing still gives students a chance to get on course

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The Independent Online

Scores of degree courses are still available at Britain's élite universities, a survey of higher education vacancies made by The Independent has discovered.

Scores of degree courses are still available at Britain's élite universities, a survey of higher education vacancies made by The Independent has discovered.

An analysis of places still available in clearing shows that students who have missed their grades can still study in internationally respected departments at some of the nation's best universities.

Many courses and even entire faculties have been filled since the opening 10 days ago of the clearing process, which matches students to university places. But opportunities still exist for students with middle-ranking A-level results to gain places to study popular subjects at many universities in the Russell group of leading research universities and elsewhere.

At Manchester places were still available in history, where academics are asking for BCC grades at A-level, and for modern history with economics, also for BCC grades.

Newcastle University is still offering history, although students are being asked for 24 A-level points, the equivalent of BBB grades. Classics, however, is available at a rather lower qualification of 18 points, the equivalent of CCC.

In the social sciences, Nottingham was offering a range of prestigious science degrees, including the top-rated four-year MSc physics course at 20 points, or BCC.

King's College London was offering courses including American studies, with a year abroad, and geography. Technologically minded sixth formers could try to make their fortunes with a choice of degrees in computer science or telecommunications.

The clearing lists again include large numbers of places in engineering, for years a hard-to-fill discipline. There are also scores of vacancies in modern languages, both for single honours and the marketable combination of a language with another subject.

The Independent's snap-shot survey shows the position after many places have been filled almost two weeks into the annual scramble for places.

Angela Milln, an admissions officer at Southampton, said the university was on track to fill its places after a quiet start, but places were still available for well-qualified students. "There is very much an emphasis on quality of students this year, but we have left quite a lot of subjects in clearing because there are students who turn up with good qualifications even quite late in the day," she said.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (Ucas) said problems in Scotland that left thousands of sixth formers waiting for exam results had slowed the clearing system, as many universities held places for affected students. However, so far this year more than 280,000 students have secured places, 5,000 up on the same date last year.

Universities have been allocated about 18,000 extra full-time undergraduate places in England as part of the Government's target to get more than half of young people into higher education.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at Liverpool University, said most expansion was taking place at popular oversubscribed institutions. "Many of the extra places have gone to selecting universities rather than marketing universities. It will lead to the expansion of selecting universities and that means it will be very difficult to fill the places in some otheruniversities."

Ross Hayman, a spokesman for Ucas, said it was too soon to say whether the Government's target would be met. "We are in the middle of clearing and it will be the end of September before we know whether recruitment has reached targets."

Mr Hayman warned students not to gamble on accepting a place, hoping to change course once they arrived. "Universities are always concerned about students who might drop out because they are unhappy on a course and will try to accommodate them. But the chances are that a high-demand course will be filled," he said.

* Students who get into university with as little as a D and an E grade at A-level can go on to gain first-class degrees, according to a survey published yesterday.

In some cases, students who had only an E-grade in maths ended up with first-class maths degrees, the research by Liverpool University shows. The survey found that one-third of those entering with the equivalent of CDD or less at A-level eventually gained a first or upper second. Some students who started their degrees on special "foundation" courses to improve basic maths ended up with first-class honours.

Admissions officers said the results, based on degree results since 1997, showed students who entered through the clearing system could still attain academic excellence.

Dr Mark Kermode, senior lecturer in maths at Liverpool University, said: "Some students with poor grades go through clearing and change when they get to university. Some peak at A-level, but others peak much later. It is hard work at university that counts."

Dr Kermode said admissions tutors would accept students with low A-level grades if they showed evidence of potential - either good GCSE grades in maths, or other factors on their application forms.