Students face intense competition for fewer places after record exam passes

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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of students will face a desperate scramble for university places today as increasingly well-qualified school leavers compete for vacancies.

Competition for the remaining vacancies is expected to be particularly intense this year as another record year for A-level results will see students compete for slightly fewer places this year.

On the stroke of midnight last night 37,398 vacancies went up for grabs through clearing, the service which matches students with university places both online and exclusively in The Independent. This is 300 fewer than last year when 37,700 places were on offer.

And a survey of universities by The Independent found that many leading institutions expect fewer vacancies as more students get their predicted grades.

These students will be the first to be charged the new top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year.

Virginia Isaac, director of communications at Ucas, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which runs clearing, said: "If you have not made your grades, first of all don't panic. It may not be as bad as you feared. If you have only just missed your grades then it may be that your chosen university or college will still be able to accept you. Get on the phone and tell them about your situation. If on the other hand you have really missed your grades then you should consider going into clearing. You can find lists of vacancies at or in The Independent".

But rising A-level grades mean that admissions tutors at many universities are already reporting that they are full. Some believe they have filled all their courses for the first time - even in subjects traditionally hard to fill - while others expect fewer vacancies than in previous years. The clearing process normally lasts nearly six weeks after the release of A-level results. But many courses will be filled during the first days of clearing.

The Independent's survey of universities found that some have cut the number of places offered through the clearing system this year because they expect more students will achieve the grades predicted for them.

Other institutions will not offer any places through clearing for the first time this year because they are already full. A University of Edinburgh spokesman said there were no vacancies even in subjects that were traditionally hard to fill.