Page last updated at 06:08 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 07:08 UK

University place struggle warning

By Colette Hume
BBC Wales education correspondent

Students in a lecture hall
Over 600,000 people across the UK have applied for university places this year

After the waiting and hoping, it's not long until thousands of A-level students receive their results.

And with record number of applications this year, university admissions tutors are warning students they could be left without a place, if they fall short of their expected grades when they're revealed on Thursday.

More than 600,000 people across the UK have applied for university places this year - that's a rise of 9.7%.

The credit crunch is being blamed for the increase as many young people decide they want to stay in education rather than try to find a job during the recession.

It's thought mature students - including people who have been made redundant - could also go some way to explain the spike in applications.

Anthony McClaren, chief executive of university admissions service Ucas, says he expects "intense" pressure this year on clearing, which matches students who have been turned down by their original choices, to other courses.

He said that last year 44,000 students found places through clearing, but "it may be half that" this year.

I would urge them to be flexible, take advice from school from careers - and who knows that the situation may be like next year
Dr Hywel Davies, Aberystwyth University

Diana Warwick, chief executive of higher education action group Universities UK, said the increased pressure on places will mean that competition will be "more intense".

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

"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 Ucas."

University clearing centres are preparing themselves for a rush for places.

Dr Hywel Davies, director of admissions at Aberystwyth university, says he thinks the number of spare places in the clearing system could be down this year by as much as 50% and he says many universities can't take on any more students.

He says some of those left without a place at the end of clearing might have to consider other options.

"I would urge them to be flexible, take advice - and who knows what the situation may be like next year," he said.

"Take the gap year and see what happens next year. I do sympathise with those students who will be disappointed."

Pressure

Last year in Wales nearly 98% of entries passed.

But the number of top A grades stayed exactly the same as the year before at just over 24% of entries - and that means Welsh candidates achieved fewer As than the rest of the UK.

This year another small rise is predicted - meaning that almost every A-level entry here in Wales receives a grade.

But this year students will have even more reason to be nervous of that moment when they get their results.

Admissions tutors say pressure on places is now so severe that if they fail to make their expected grades the could find themselves taking an unexpected and unwelcome gap year.



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