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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK
The ups and downs of clearing
Thousands of A-level students who did not achieve the grades required for their chosen degree course will have to act fast to find a course vacancy through the clearing service.

Alison Smith reports on efforts to make the process more bearable.

Kingston University clearing call centre
Many call centre staff understand the caller's anxiety
Many of the 40 students manning Kingston University's clearing hotline have felt the trauma and disappointment of going through clearing.

Jayesh Dudhia managed to secure a place to read biochemistry at Kingston after falling short of the grades he needed for his first choice university, King's College London.

"I felt like a leftover having to go through the clearing system and was disappointed with my grades," he said.

Now happy on his course, he will be speaking to anxious callers to the clearing hotline this year.

He said he wanted to "give something back" to the university and help other students who may feel they are in a hopeless position.

"But I'm not here to try to help people decide if a particular course is right for them. I can only tell them if they meet the requirements.

"I think universities should be careful who they offer places to, and I know that Kingston is," he said.

"But I have friends elsewhere who are studying with people who have far lower grades than they obtained, and it makes them question the value of their course.

"But clearing is a good system - it means you don't have to wait a year because you didn't get the grades."

'I was in shock'

The caller's grades are first compared to a database of course vacancies.

Jayesh Dudhia
Jayesh says callers to clearing have to be decisive

If an applicant meets the requirements of a particular course and wishes to apply, a relevant member of the academic staff will speak to them to check their suitability.

But staff are also trained to deal with "worst case scenarios", such as aggressive students or timewasters.

Stephanie McAulay, 23, said she was so daunted by the prospect of going through clearing that she asked her husband to ring Kingston for her.

After leaving school at 16 she later studied for two A-levels in one year while working full-time.

But despite predictions of two As she achieved only D and E grades.

"I was in shock - I thought I had my life planned out. It was traumatic," she said.

But she said the tutor she spoke to was encouraging and sympathetic to her situation.

Her six years' work experience was taken into account by Kingston's department of history, which offered her a place.

The complete list of degree course vacancies available through clearing are listed on the Universities, Colleges and Admissions Service (Ucas) website.

YOU ARE ELIGIBLE FOR CLEARING IF:
You are not holding any offers from universities or colleges
Your offers were not confirmed when your exam results were announced
You have declined, or not responded to, a changed course, a changed date of entry or a changed point of entry offer
You have applied too late for your application to be considered before clearing
Source: UCAS website

Ucas also offers a telephone support line for students worried about their grades who would like independent advice.

It estimates it assists around 35,000 people to find a higher education place every year.

Kingston University's marketing manager, Anthony Allen, oversees the clearing hotline and says it is helpful for callers to hear on the end of the telephone from someone who has been there.

"Some students may be panicking because they haven't got their grades, and a part of what our staff do is putting their minds at ease."

Right decision?

But are some students tempted to take the wrong course because they feel any place at university is better than none?

Ian Ferguson from the Learning and Skills Council says it is important for young people to access information about other options.

"I absolutely believe in the university system," he said.

"But students going through clearing are under pressure and need to be able to consider doing something different."

"A young person who has done A-levels may think they will not be able to find a job and they must go to university."

Stephanie McAulay
Stephanie says she found her place at Kingston within hours
"They could take a gap year to gain work experience, or take another qualification such as the foundation degree."

He added that higher national certificates and diplomas (HNCs and HNDs) and foundation degrees were as academically demanding as degrees, though they are shorter courses.

"Universities do find that students who have done these courses are well-suited to the kinds of degrees they are offering," he added.

Apprenticeships also accrue Ucas points and count towards university entry.

But Mr Ferguson admits there is a job to do to publicise these other options while students are told that A-levels and university are the best route to a good job.

With the introduction of variable top-up fees in 2006, universities believe competition for places could be tougher than ever this year.

Applications to Kingston have increased by 30% from last year.

Students working on the hotline have been told to brace themselves for a busy few days.


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