University place scramble continues

image captionUniversity admissions helpline workers have answered thousands of calls

A record numbers of students are continuing to chase a dwindling number of unfilled university places through the clearing system.

More than 186,000 students are chasing places following A-level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

With another record in the A-level pass rate, and 27% of entries gaining As or A*s, the competition is intense.

The university admissions service said 2010 was perhaps the toughest year for admissions for the past decade.

More than 300,000 students have received A-level results.

The university admissions service, Ucas, said 57% of the 674,000 people who applied for undergraduate courses this autumn have been accepted so far.

At this time last year, about 135,000 were in this position - 21.2% of total applicants. This year it is 28.2% of the total.

When clearing, the system which matches unplaced students with unallocated places, opened on Thursday there were places on 18,000 courses available.

This compares to places on 32,000 courses last year, and comes after many universities said they had fewer clearing places than last year.

About 186,494 people are thought to be without a university place and eligible for clearing because they either had not got the grades they needed for their chosen courses, did not receive any offers or applied late.

There is no available figure for the number of unallocated course places, but universities are saying generally that there are fewer places available.

And places are going fast at the universities which have entered the clearing system.

Some 660,000 students have applied to university in the UK. There are more places on offer this year, but the numbers are capped and universities face fines for over-recruiting. In 2009, 482,000 students got places.

Ucas's chief executive, Mary Curnock Cook, said: "Thousands of applicants whose places have been confirmed today deserve congratulations for this achievement in perhaps the most competitive year for HE admissions in the last 10 years."

Universities Minister David Willetts said that those who did not get the offer of a university place had other good options including apprenticeships and college places.

"There are more university places than ever before and already 380,000 applicants have got confirmed places at university. For those who have sadly not done as well they hoped, there are places available in clearing."

National Union of Students president Aaron Porter said a generation of young people were "facing a very uncertain future."

And Professor Les Ebdon of university think tank Million+ said it would be a "tragic waste of talent" if thousands of applicants were left without places this year.

This year is the first time the A* grade has been awarded at A-level, with 8% of entries gaining the top grade.

More girls than boys attained an A*, which requires candidates to obtain 90% or above.

The overall A-level pass rate rose for the 28th year in row. It now stands at 97.6%.

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