A-level results start a scramble for places

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The Independent Online
MIGUEL NOGALES phoned his school from Spain to find out his A-level results yesterday. It was good news - six A grades in physics, economics, mathematics, further mathematics, Spanish and general studies.

Miguel, who was a pupil at Aylesbury Grammar School in Buckinghamshire, was overjoyed with his results, according to Keith Smith, the head teacher. 'I could hear the cheers in the background,' he said. 'He is one of the best pupils we have ever had. On the whole I advise people not to take more than three subjects, but he was a boy with such a lot of talent and interests one could make an exception.'

Miguel will be going on to read economics at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge - he was made a conditional offer based on three A grades.

However, with more people passing this year, students who have dropped one grade on their offers may find it harder to secure a place at university than previously. Dr Ted Nield, a spokesman for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said that although universities expected to take more students, 'some departments may be taking in even more than they planned for because more made the grade than expected - so fewer departments will need to go into the clearing system'.

In popular subjects, clearing could be 'very tight', he said. Last year 11,454 university places were gained through the clearing system, 9.7 per cent of the total.

Most institutions will be taking on extra this year - Dr Nield said some departments were already so constrained that they would not be able to expand. But everyone who had been promised a place would get one.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of the Polytechnics Central Admissions System, said the slightly better results than last year 'should not break the bank'. Institutions offered places on a relatively conservative basis so they could 'lower the hurdle a little if they haven't filled their courses'. As of Wednesday, there had been 381,189 applications to polytechnics and universities - for a total of about 230,000 places. More than 170,000 people had applied for places in both systems.

What could happen, he said, was that while in the past students who gained places at both a polytechnic and a university had tended to plump for the latter, now they might be more likely to choose the polytechnic, because it had become a university. 'If that happens, the old polytechnics may be stuck with many more students than expected and the old universities wondering where are all the students they traditionally get from clearing.'

The Independent and Independent on Sunday will be the only newspapers publishing university and polytechnic places through the 'clearing house' this year. The UCCA and PCAS lists will first be published on Wednesday, 26 August.

(Photographs omitted)