Competition for places remains intense

The introduction of tuition fees has not lessened demand for higher education.
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For this year's students with disappointing A-level grades trying to find university places through Clearing, there is everything to play for. Initial fears that the introduction of tuition fees would put off young people from applying for higher education have not, as yet, been substantiated. Figures released in June by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) showed a drop of only 2.4 per cent on the same time last year in applications, and a 1.1 per cent increase in UK applicants under 21. So the likelihood is that competition for places in Clearing this year will be no less intense than usual.

What strategy should you adopt, then, if you have already failed to get a place on a popular subject like medicine, law or English? Should you cut your losses and opt for a less sought-after subject or a place through Clearing? According to Tony Higgins, UCAS chief executive, only medicine, veterinary medicine and, surprisingly perhaps, physiotherapy are ruled out at this stage.

All other subjects are possible.

English and law might be hard to get in to, but if students are flexible and prepared to consider combined courses in these subjects, they might well be lucky.

Science subjects will always have more vacancies than arts or social sciences. Engineering, chemistry, physics and biological science, sad to say, will probably end up with more spaces than they can fill. So think hard about what you really want to do. The following facts may act as a guide.

Applications for medicine are down by 1.4 per cent on last year, but there is still little chance of a place. The small number of vacancies in Clearing are frequently not even advertised because of the competition. The average A-level point score demanded last year was 28.5 for medicine, 26.6 for dentistry, and 29.2 for veterinary science (A-level grades score 10 for an A, eight for a B, six for a C, four for an E, and two for an F). But if you are interested in becoming a medical scientist as opposed to a doctor, then consider biochemistry, which will be much easier to get in to.

Applications to study law are only fractionally down this year, by 0.1 per cent, and last year's average point score was 21.2. Bear in mind, however, that law can be part of a combined degree or a higher national diploma law course.

This year's applications for English are down by 4.8 per cent. Last year a surprising 1,120 UK students found places for English through Clearing, but the average point score was still high, at 21.5, for all applicants. Modular courses combining, for instance, American studies and theatre studies, could be a good means of having a bite at this subject.

Drama had a lower point score - 17.5 - but is still a very popular subject, and places are limited. Applications are up again this year, by 4.2 per cent, but this is a markedly smaller increase than in previous years. Again it can be taken as part of a combined course, particularly for students who are interested in the academic study of the theatre. But remember, also, that HND drama courses - applications are up this year by 24.3 per cent.

Cinematics is a fast-growing subject in the creative arts, with applications up this year by 8.9 per cent. Courses are multiplying and last year 1,487 students gained places with an average point. score of 16.3, compared with only 408 students in 1995.

Psychology, after a big surge in applications in recent years, seems to have peaked, and applications are actually down by 4.1 per cent this year.

Media studies, another recent popular subject, showed an increase of 54 per cent in applications in 1995, but has since slowed down, with a two per cent drop this year.

The biggest increases in applications so far this year are for software engineering (up by 22.3 per cent), marketing and market research (19.4 per cent) and computer science (1.5.4 per cent).

Business and management studies continue to be widely sought after, with a modest rise in applications of 3.1 per cent this year. Business management last year demanded an average point score of 17.6. But the good news for interested applicants is that, despite the subject's popularity, there are generally plenty of places to be found in Clearing.

Last year, business management topped the UCAS list of subjects accepting the most students through Clearing with 3,304 UK acceptances.

For students with poor grades, or only one A-level pass, many new universities also offer an HND in business management. which can be a stepping stone to a degree. This year's figures show a drop in HND business management applications of 24.6 per cent but many of these courses will fill up in Clearing.

Mechanical engineering, another prime HND subject has dropped its HND applications by 18.4 per cent this year, but gained 1.3 per cent in degree applications. Electronic engineering, on the other hand, is one of the few HND subjects where applications have risen substantially this year - by 21.4 per cent.

Civil engineering is down by 6.3 per cent in degree applications and down by 36.9 per cent in HNDs.