The call centre where prayers are answered

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The Independent Online

The telephones began their incessant ringing in the early hours of yesterday morning at the University of Greenwich.

Desperate A-level students, stung by not quite making the required grades, jammed the switchboard. One hundred operators fortified themselves with polystyrene cups of tea and energy drinks for the frenetic hours ahead. Their task: to help find places for those entering this year's unusually competitive clearing battle.

The phones were mostly staffed by Greenwich undergraduates – several themselves rescued through the clearing process – and academics were on hand to examine more complex cases. Aimee Winney, 22, a learning disabilities and education student in her final year, took a call from a sixth-former with straight A grades who, having not previously applied for university, had a change of heart and was now pleading for a place on a law course. "They weren't sure if they wanted to go to university but were attracted to Greenwich because of its good reputation," she said. Financial considerations – specifically the need to carry on living at home – were often a concern for those calling.

The hubbub among the phone banks would occasionally be broken by a burst of excitement down the other end of a line. Volunteer Ryan Mahaffey, 28, currently studying for a master's in sports science, wore a wide grin and was nursing tender eardrums after being able to offer one 18-year-old a place on a journalism course.

"They were incredibly anxious about it," he said, "and when they heard the news there was a bit of screaming. Obviously they were happy."

For others, results day brought bitter disappointment and necessitated a telephone marathon in the hunt to become the lucky one-in-six (or so) students who will find a place through clearing.

Many students calling Greenwich were still one or two UCAS points short of the university being able to offer them a place. "We try to point people in different directions," said Mahaffey, "but they can't always get the choices that they want."

This year Greenwich expects to admit around 5 per cent of its students within the next week.

Beverley Woodhams, head of recruitment, remarked: "We are very busy – busier than last year – and we are also seeing people with very high UCAS points enquiring about places."