Growing numbers of disappointed A-level candidates are demanding their papers be re-marked in a bid to win a university place.
University admissions officers are reporting an increase in requests for re-marks from youngsters who have failed to get the necessary grades to take up provisional offers of a place.
However, even if the re-mark gives them the grades they need, they may still not be able to secure a university place this autumn.
Tim Westlake, the director of admissions at the University of Manchester, said: "Our feeling is that – as securing a place at university intensifies – students who narrowly missed out on their grades are requesting re-marks in order to obtain their first or second choices.
"We will endeavour to honour students a place with us this year. However we cannot guarantee students will have a place. Even if we could, it would not be in the interests of us or the student in question.
"We can, however, guarantee they will have a place to study with us next year if they are successful in obtaining the required grades to satisfy their offer through a re-mark – although they may have to defer for a year."
Other universities have reported a similar trend among applicants. University vice-chancellors have always made it clear that a provisional offer guarantees a place if the student meets the requirement demanded.
However, it was being said yesterday that – if the grades are met through a re-mark – universities are not legally bound to provide a place that year but are "honour bound" to take the student in the following year. "We are sure that in 99.9 per cent of cases that would happen," said a source.
One of the reasons candidates would be asked to defer is that it can take several weeks for a re-mark to be concluded. Universities would also not get any additional finance to take on an extra student once they had filled their allocated places.
The squeeze on university places is more acute this year as record numbers – 610,000 – have applied for a place (a 10 per cent increase on last year). In addition, the numbers meeting grade requirements for a provisional place were at an all-time high (371,000).
The number of places on offer has only increased by a maximum of 13,000 – and 10,000 of these have been made available on the understanding from ministers that there will be no extra finance to meet teaching costs. Many universities – including Oxford and Cambridge – have turned down the offer on the grounds that it would dilute the quality of education they offer.
Universities added that only a handful of students were taking advantage of a five-day "breather" – which means those achieving better grades than expected would have any provisional offer held open for five days if they wanted to try for a place at one of the country's leading universities. Many youngsters are playing safe and staying with what they have been offered.
This year, the A-level pass rate rose for the 27th year in succession – with a record number of A grades being awarded (26.5 per cent).
Universities are warning that – as a result of this year's squeeze – thousands are delaying entry to higher education until next year. As a result, the admissions process is likely to be just as tough, if not tougher, in 2010.
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