Elite universities to make unprecedented number of places available through clearing

Elite Russell Group universities are to make an unprecedented number of places available through clearing this year (Telegraph, 02/08/13)

At least half the country’s leading universities — including Warwick, Nottingham, Birmingham and Leeds — confirmed they would be part of the system set up to match students with spare places. Glasgow said all arts courses and most science and engineering subjects would be open to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland through clearing.

Top universities have traditionally offered few places through clearing as they are usually oversubscribed. But this year courses including engineering, biology, physics, English and foreign languages will be available because of reforms to the admissions system combined with concerns that some students continue to be put off by annual tuition fees of up to £9,000.

The places will be open only to students obtaining at least an A and two Bs, giving last minute hope to those who fail to obtain the required grades for the most competitive courses.

Some 12 out of 24 institutions confirmed that they would accept applications through clearing.

Only seven – including Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Imperial College London and University College London – said they would definitely not be in clearing while the others were unable to confirm their plans.

Last year an estimated 11,500 places at Russell Group universities went unfilled. The disclosure prompted unprecedented competition between universities, with more offering generous scholarships and staging aggressive marketing campaigns.

Sheffield has launched a high-profile clearing campaign for the first time giving students the chance to “upgrade” to “ensure they’re investing their fees in a world-class university”.

Simon Renton, president of the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said changes to admissions rules had “created so much instability and uncertainty that even our most selective universities are vulnerable to under-recruitment”.

Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group, said: “One consequence of the uncertainties in the new system is that universities may have more places to offer through clearing to well-qualified students who have narrowly missed out on their first choice or through the adjustment process for those who have done better than expected.”

Under the new rules, universities can recruit unlimited numbers of students with at least two As and a B at A-level, but controls have been tightened on other students. This has triggered intense competition and means many sixth-formers failing to get A and B grades at A-level may miss out on places at the leading institutions.

Last year, the most selective universities took 6,669 students through clearing, up sharply from 3,582 in 2011. Experts suggest the numbers will be even higher in 2013.

Russell Group universities said they were unsure how many courses would be available when A-level results are released on Aug 15.

Queen Mary, University of London, predicted places on 27 different courses would be available, including engineering, biology, computer science, English, French, German, physics and zoology. Warwick said it was likely to have places on a range of language and science courses.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Clearing is an important part of the application process and can help to ensure that there is the best match between students and universities.”

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, insisted clearing “should not be seen as a last chance saloon but a credible application route”.

By Graeme Paton and Josie Gurney-Read, Telegraph. Click here to read the article © The Telegraph.