The number of students accepted by UK universities has fallen by 3.7% compared with this time last year.
Applications are also down on last year
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said 344,964 had a place for this autumn, down almost 14,000 from 358,315 in 2005.
But the number of applicants also fell, meaning the 71% acceptance rate was only slightly down from 71.2%.
This autumn's intake from England and Northern Ireland will be the first to pay fees of up to £3,000 a year.
Surge last year
It is thought that last year's surge in acceptances - from 331,027 in 2004 - was a blip partly caused by students who skipped having a gap year to avoid the higher payments.
This year's figure represents a 4.2% increase on 2004.
The clearing system, for people who apply for places after their A-level or equivalent exams or fail to get a place at their chosen university, is currently in full swing.
After 13 days, 16,289 have been accepted using clearing, up from 15,503 last year.
Some 29,353 students are still waiting to see if they have a place, or have yet to decide whether to accept an offer, compared with 29,931 at the same stage last year.