Universities filling places at record rate

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#University places are filling up at a record rate and many popular courses are already full, university officials said last night. So far, 201,175 applicants have had their offers confirmed, compared with 190,772 at the same time last year. The total number of places is 290,000.

However, admissions officers are still expecting thousands of students to find places through the official clearing system, which exists to match up spare places with potential students and which opens today.

Around 20,000 courses have vacancies, compared with 14,500 last year. Tony Higgins, chief executive of Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) which runs the clearing system, said: "There is nothing left in medicine, nothing in veterinary medicine, a couple of courses in physiotherapy and a little bit of law. But there are a lot of vacancies in combined and modular courses."

All universities had vacancies with the possible exception of Oxford and Cambridge, Mr Higgins added. In engineering and science, there were vacancies not only at the new universities, but also at places such as Manchester, Birmingham, Hull, York and Surrey.

Last year 41,000 students found places through clearing. Ucas officials believe there may be about 10,000 fewer places this year as the A-level pass rate was up 1.8 per cent, as was the proportion of students awarded A and B grades.

"However, that is not a problem," Mr Higgins said. "It just means that 10,000 people have got their places already. The joker in the pack might be the 33,000 who last year got offers and qualifications but did not go to university. This year, perhaps because of universities' threat to charge top-up fees in future, they might decide not to delay."

The speed with which places are being filled may be explained partly by the record A-level results and partly by universities' anxieties to hit recruitment targets rather than face financial penalties.

t The Independent and Independent on Sunday will again this year be the only newspapers to run all the official Ucas lists of university and college vacancies.

Inside: Full vacancy list

Leading article, page 11

William Hartston, page 13