A record 414,893 students are seeking higher education places this autumn, up 2.5 per cent on last year.
This is likely to mean a big rush for clearing places when A-level results are announced on Thursday morning. As in previous years, The Independent will publish the complete and exclusive list of vacancies from Thursday onwards.
Tony Higgins, the chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admission Service, said: "The number of people applying for higher education is well up on last year and we anticipate another record-breaking year for UK universities and colleges."
The biggest rise is among mature students, where numbers have increased by 6.2 per cent to 85,987. The number of school leavers opting for higher education, while also rising, is growing more slowly, with 298,921 applicants – a rise of 1.9 per cent.
The figure will fuel fears that it will be difficult for the Government to achieve its aim of widening participation so that 50 per cent of all school leavers go on to some form of higher education by the end of the decade.
Of the applicants, 259,267 have been awarded places dependent upon the grades they get. A fortunate 62,319 have been placed already, either because they have met the entrance qualifications for the course or the university or college has made them an offer without conditions.
Of the remainder, 46,058 have not been successful in the applications they have made so far and are eligible to enter clearing. A further 44,406 were still awaiting decisions or making up their minds about offers at the last count.
Despite the numbers expected to be applying through clearing this year, students entering the system are likely to be successful if they persevere with their applications. Government funding has raised the number of university places again. About 9,500 places were unfilled at universities last year.
The applications show the most popular degree subject is business and management studies, with 123,245 applications. Second is computer science, with 108,298 and third law, with 84,783.
More than 60,000 students found undergraduate course places by using the Ucas clearing service in 2000.
Not all of those had failed to achieve the grades they needed for their first-choice institution – the service is also used by people who decided to apply to go to university late, after 30 June – or 12 June in the case of some applicants to art and design courses.
Those eligible for clearing will be sent a clearing entry form and instruction book by 1 September, barring exceptional circumstances. Applicants will need to keep handy their clearing entry and original Ucas application numbers because they will have to quote them during the process.
The Ucas helpline, 01242 227788, will be open from today until 7 September from 8am to 6pm daily, except on Thursday and Friday, when it will stay open until 8pm and on bank holiday Monday, 27 August, when it will be open for three hours, from 9am.Reuse content