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Few spare university places as demand far outstrips supply

Northern Ireland’s students are facing an unprecedented battle for university places.

Despite record A-level results yesterday competition is fierce and there are already clear signs that fewer places are available than last year.

Local students are among up to 180,600 people scrambling for the limited remaining places at universities across the UK.

And both of Northern Ireland’s universities have warned the number of places available through clearing — the process that matches students with vacant university places — will be minimal and will be filled quickly.

While many sixth-formers across the province were celebrating their A-level results yesterday, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) released information on the high number of people still struggling to secure a university place.

They are eligible for this year’s clearing process as they have no university offers, did not meet the conditions set for offers or applied very late.

Clearing opened yesterday but was expected to be short.

Almost 380,000 of the record 673,098 people across the UK to apply for university places this year had been accepted by universities by yesterday afternoon — however thousands face disappointment.

Last week, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Queen's University and the University of Ulster had received over 53,300 applications from more than 21,680 people for the 8,378 first year places available this year. University applications to Northern Ireland in total are up more than 12% on last year.

A total of 19,412 people from Northern Ireland applied for undergraduate courses across the UK this year — compared to 17,452 last year.

And even some of the highest performing exam candidates are among the young people battling to secure a place as a result of unprecedented competition for places.

Phone lines run by Queen’s University were swamped yesterday with callers who faced a long queue to speak to an advisor.

A QUB spokeswoman said the situation was “very fluid” but added that there were only around 50 vacancies available through clearing.

Meanwhile, at the University of Ulster there were also very few clearing places available.

A spokesman said yesterday afternoon: “There are currently no places available through clearing at our Jordanstown or Belfast campuses. A small number of places are available at the Coleraine campus in the subject area of finance and investment.

“There are also some vacancies at our Magee campus in Derry.”

He added that all of the available places may be filled by early next week.

Judith Shaw, head of the Department for Employment and Learning's Careers Service NI, said that many careers advisers were out in schools yesterday dealing with queries as they arise.

“Staff generally report that the level of queries at this stage is similar to previous years,” she said.

Dermot Mullan, principal of Our Lady and St Patrick’s College in Knock, said: “Most students at the school have been fortuitous in getting their places.

“However, even before today we found the medical schools and dentistry courses and high level premium courses had cut their cloth a little more tightly this year.

“Universities were working from last September in making more stringent demands and they depended more on aptitude tests and interviews. This resulted in some students not getting an offer.”

Mark Langhammer, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Northern Ireland, said: “It is shameful that for many highly capable A-level students the hard slog will not be rewarded with a university place. This is a waste of talent, demotivating for students and teachers and a failure to invest in the future.”

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