Students searching for a last-minute degree place on A-level day are likely to find a buyers’ market with tens of thousands of courses still available, figures indicate.
A week before sixth-formers learn their grades, a Press Association analysis shows that virtually all universities – including three quarters of the UK’s most selective institutions – are listing undergraduate courses in Clearing on the UCAS website.
Law, languages, engineering, astrophysics, maths and English are among the types of subjects with availability, amid intense competition between universities to attract candidates.
The Press Association research shows that 132 out of 148 UK universities are advertising at least one course on the UCAS clearing website for applicants living in England.
In total, there are 26,587 courses listed that potentially have availability.
Among the 24 Russell Group institutions – the universities that are widely considered among the best in the country – three in four (18 universities) have at least one course advertised on the Clearing site, with 4,706 courses potentially available.
The data comes the week before students across England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results and learn if they have gained the grades they need to secure their university place.
There has been a fall in the numbers of would-be students applying to university for this autumn, with 636,960 submitting applications by the end of June – down 2% on 2017.
Application numbers from UK students are down 3% on last year, with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all seeing falls.
At the same time, there has been a fall in the 18-year-old population in England, although this age group is more likely to apply to university than ever before.
There is also now no cap on the number of students a university can admit.
It is likely to mean that students seeking Clearing places next week will have options open to them.
Dr Christina Edgar, director of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Sheffield, said: “There’s a demographic dip in 18-year-olds this year, leading to fewer students applying to university at the moment so it’s really a great year for student choice.
“Clearing has become a great chance for savvy students to shop around, look at different courses, revisit original Ucas choices and even ‘trade up’ to a better-ranked university if they’ve done well in their exams.
“It’s important students don’t feel pressured to hurriedly accept an offer as part of Clearing though. Choosing where to study is a big decision and needs to be an informed one.
“At Sheffield, we let students sleep on their offer and invite them to see the campus. So it’s worth students asking whether they can have some thinking time. Some universities (like Sheffield) also offer guaranteed accommodation to students coming through Clearing or Adjustment, so students should inquire about what support they’ll be given in terms of finding somewhere to live.”
Richard Harvey, academic director of admissions at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said: “Long gone are the days when Clearing was the last resort for A-level candidates whose results meant they were scrambling for a place at university.”
He added: “The removal of the cap on student numbers following the introduction of tuition fees has changed the landscape for both students and universities, with more places now available to fewer applicants, thanks to the current demographic dip in the number of eighteen-year-olds.
“Student behaviour has changed and they’re happy to take their time and ‘shop around’, collecting offers before they make their final decision.”
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Clearing is increasingly popular and an excellent way to find a course that is right for you. More than 10% of university places are now secured through clearing and there will be thousands of places available again this year.
“Universities recognise the high quality of applicants now in clearing. Most universities will make places available. It’s open to everyone and most subjects are available, including some highly competitive courses.”
A Russell Group spokeswoman said: “Clearing can be an opportunity to help students who have missed out on their first and second choice. Students’ results aren’t always what they expect and it’s good to have a bit of flexibility in the system.”