A-level results day: Record number of students score university places on first day of clearing

Around nine in 10 higher education institutions have advertised at least one course as having vacancies – leaving students in a powerful position this year

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Friday 18 August 2017 16:44 BST
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Thousands of students celebrated A-level results day this week
Thousands of students celebrated A-level results day this week

Record numbers of students have secured university places through clearing this A-level results day, official figures show, with universities still left scrambling to fill thousands more vacancies.

Industry leaders have described this year’s process as a “buyer’s market”, with students finding themselves in a powerful position to pick and choose between courses.

Some universities are said to be offering cash bonuses, laptops, gym membership and even free flights in a bid to secure students.

By midnight on results day, 11,180 people had secured a place through clearing – the process by which students can apply for leftover courses or “trade up an existing offer” – more than double the total of five years ago.

With the process still ongoing, the total number of clearing applicants is not yet known, but early indicators suggest universities are being quicker off the mark to fill places, with fewer students eligible for recruitment.

Figures from the Ucas university admissions service suggest there has never been a better time to enter clearing amid a fall in overall applications and acceptances, leading to fewer students being free to enter the annual process.

A Press Association survey suggests that the vast majority of universities, including many top Russell Group institutions, are entering clearing.

But greater freedom for applicants to swap their offers comes at a price, warned the University of Buckingham vice chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon.

“It’s very good for students but it’s such an imperfect market,” he told The Independent. “It’s the same with schools – some who are at the top of the league tables are not doing a lot, they just have extraordinary pupils who work extremely hard and bring in the results.

“There’s a worry that students with good grades will be rushing to swap their offers for ones at more fashionable places – universities further up the league table with good names.

“I can understand why they might want to do that, but students should be wary. The new TEF rankings go to show that the best ranking places won’t necessarily have the best teaching.

“My advice would be to think about what is suitable for them. Drill down, shop around and don’t just go where your friends are going.”

Buckingham University came out top in the Government’s new teaching excellence framework rankings.

The private university’s clearing applicants have gone up by around a third on this time last year.

The latest Ucas snapshot shows that 437,070 people had been accepted on to courses as of midnight on Thursday, down 1.3 per cent compared to the same point last year – around 20,700 fewer in total.

Clearing, which opened on Thursday, is the annual system that matches students without degree places, such as those that failed to meet the entry requirements for their chosen course, with courses that still have availability.

The number of students eligible to be placed in clearing is down 12 per cent (around 18,000 people) compared to last year, the figures show.

The falls mean many more options are available to students hoping to start degree courses this autumn, with less competition among those still searching for a place.

There have been reports that a number of universities are lowering their entry requirements to attract students.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said: “At the start of today [Friday] there were 134,840 applicants in clearing, compared to 153,010 in 2016 and with nearly 45,000 courses looking for students there is a huge amount of choice out there.”

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The Government’s move to lift the cap on student numbers in England two years ago means universities are at liberty to recruit as many undergraduates as they choose.

But critics say the move has led to a fall in degree quality, with increasing numbers of students graduating with first-class degrees from institutions which act more like businesses.

“I think it’s a shame about the coming off of the cap,” said Sir Anthony. “Really big universities are going to get too big, and there are fantastic ones who are going to get really squeezed.”

With no limit on the number of students they can recruit, some universities are becoming greedy and student experience is suffering as a result, he suggested.

The Press Association survey, based on 148 universities, shows a total of 26,654 undergraduate courses showing availability for students in England.

Almost nine out of 10 of the institutions included in the survey (132) were advertising at least one course on the Ucas website for these students.

Clearing will remain open until 2 September, but Ucas officials predict the majority of places will be secured this weekend.

Ms Marchant added: “I would urge anyone who is unsure of their next steps to visit ucas.com where you can search all the courses available and where there is lots of information about all of your options.”

Students can also get in touch with the admissions service via phone or social media, she said, as well as signing up for a “direct contact service” which allows universities and colleges to get in touch with unplaced applicants.

Overall, 649,700 people had applied to start degree courses by 30 June, the last deadline for applications, down around 4 per cent (25,190) compared with this point last year, according to previous Ucas figures.

Additional reporting by PA

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