Students face a scramble for university places

Graduates Last year 47,600 places were awarded through clearing

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Competition for university places is expected to be intense this year, with fewer places likely to be available through clearing, a survey suggests.

Clearing, the process matching students who have failed to get the right grades with free places, could be "briefer and tighter", Universities UK said.

A small survey for news agency PA suggests some universities are cutting the number of clearing places on offer.

Last year around 47,600 students accepted places through clearing.

'Adaptable' applicants

A spokeswoman for Universities UK, the vice-chancellors' umbrella group, said: "The increased pressure on places this year does mean that competition is likely to be more intense and it will be a challenging time for everyone.

"It is anticipated that the clearing process for this summer will be briefer and tighter than in previous years.

"However, universities are very experienced in handling high numbers of applications and they have been preparing for this peak time for many months now along with [admissions body] Ucas."

He added: "Applicants may need to be more adaptable in their clearing and adjustment choices again this year."

Less than two weeks before A-level results are published, the Press Association surveyed a handful of universities about plans for places on offer through clearing.

There are usually few places on offer through clearing at the most sought-after universities.

'Tough' times

Cambridge, Oxford, London School of Economics (LSE) University College London, Bristol University and Edinburgh University do not use clearing.

But this year Birmingham University and Imperial College London also said they did not expect to enter the process.

At the weekend, Universities Minister David Willetts admitted good A-level students faced being turned away from this year amid mounting competition for places.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr show: "It is going to be tough. There are young people who sadly are not going to get a place, including perhaps some young people who really have got good A-level grades, and for them there is a whole range of options."

Mr Willetts suggested sixth-formers consider retaking exams or applying for apprenticeships instead.

'Courses are closing'

More than 660,000 people had applied to start full-time undergraduate courses by the end of June - up nearly 12% on last year's record-breaking figure.

But there appears to be a reduction in the number of places on offer at universities that usually use clearing.

Among those universities, Bath said it was too early to tell, but it was "not expecting there to be many" clearing places on offer.

A spokeswoman for Thames Valley University said it expected to have around 250 clearing places, down from 700 last year.

She said: "Courses are closing because they are full every day."

The University of East Anglia did not expect to have many places in clearing, and Chichester University, in West Sussex, said it expected to have around 20 clearing places - the same as last year.

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