The odds on getting a university place for the thousands of students eligible for clearing worsened to 10 to one last night. A survey by The Independent also revealed that some universities were raising the grades they were demanding for the courses they had remaining.
Many said the calibre of would-be students was far higher this year, with many young people who received two As and a B still searching for increasingly elusive places.
UCAS, the university admissions service, said yesterday that 5,205 candidates had been granted places during the first day of clearing – an increase of more than 50 per cent on the figure for 2008.
However, several universities contacted by The Independent, including Derby, Durham, Gloucestershire, Lancaster, Leicester, Warwick, York and Harper Adams University College in Shropshire, said all their vacancies had been snapped up. Two more, Northumbria and Reading, expected every place to have gone by late last night.
At Aston University, which is offering 100 extra places this year as a result of the Government's decision to allow universities to take in up to 10,000 extra students, officials predicted that all their available places would have gone by last night.
This is on top of several leading universities not entering the clearing system, among them Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London.
Bath Spa announced on Thursday that it was not accepting any more applicants after receiving 23,000 inquiries for between 75 and 100 places.
Figures released yesterday showed that 141,669 applicants were still eligible for a clearing place. With 5,205 of the estimated 22,000 places on offer this year already gone by yesterday morning, and a similar number of places estimated to have been filled during the day, it left 136,000 people fighting for 12,000 places.
Some of those eligible, however, will not seriously pursue a place. They may already have decided to take a gap year, or be overseas students who have put in for prestigious universities in other countries such as the US.
One official at Kent University described the clearing situation as "fairly manic", adding: "We are looking at good-quality candidates, mainly BBB or above. For the remaining vacancies, the offers are going up rather than down. We are finding we are inundated, so in most cases we are operating with the same entry requirements as normal for clearing. In some cases the entry requirements have gone up. It's ludicrous."
A spokesman for Aberdeen University added: "The number of clearing applicants is higher than ever before. These are really good-quality candidates as they seem to be shopping around a bit – a lot of AAB-type candidates."
A spokesman for the University of Hertfordshire confirmed that it was getting an average of 7,000 hits a minute on its website.
There was still hope for young people with lower grade passes, as Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge said it had places on a computer science course for candidates with a point score of 150 (the equivalent of two Ds and an E). The University of the Arts in London said candidates wanting to opt for foundation courses, which prepare the way for a full degree course, could enlist with a point score of 80 (two Es).
By yesterday, a total of 382,863 candidates had been accepted for courses – 33,414 more than at the same time last year. A further 79,528 of the 610,453 who applied for courses this year were still waiting to see whether a place had been confirmed, while 6,393 would-be students had pulled out of the race.
Research by Matilda Battersby, Katie Evans and Matt RobinsonReuse content