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Thousands miss university place

Over 13,000 A-level pupils get their results tomorrow but there's only 150 unfilled places in our universities

By Lindsay Fergus

Thousands of A-level students will be frantically battling through clearing tomorrow for just 150 coveted places at Northern Ireland's two universities.

Of the 8,000 undergraduate places for first year students just 100 remain unfilled at Queen's and 50 at University of Ulster.

That figure is less than half that of last year when 350 courses were up for grabs through clearing, which matches students who have not received offers or been turned down by their original choices due to lower than expected grades, to other available courses.

The process begins on Thursday, the day that students throughout Northern Ireland, England and Wales receive their A-level results.

Almost 13,000 candidates (12,756) from Northern Ireland will receive their results from 7am.

A University of Ulster spokesman said: "We estimate we will have up to around 50 clearing places, compared to 260 in 2010. Vacancies are available on only a few courses this year - mostly those which were introduced during the admissions cycle and which may not have been extensively publicised."

It is a similarly bleak picture across the UK with universities - who received A-level results from awarding bodies last week - revealing vacancies are now scarce.

Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, Bristol, London School of Economics, Warwick, University College London, Edinburgh and Birmingham are not entering clearing.

Surrey, Oxford Brookes, Chester, Leeds Metropolitan, Reading and Harper Adams University College have also said it is doubtful that they would take part in clearing.

As many institutions are already full up, places that are available through clearing are expected to be snapped up quickly.

Both Northern Ireland's universities have already had to turn down 71% of applicants after more than three people applied for every one available course.

There were 15,469 applicants for just 4,500 places at the University of Ulster. Queen's had 12,000 applicants for its 3,466 first time undergraduate spaces.

Professor Denise McAlister, pro-vice chancellor at University of Ulster said: "Obviously there's increased demand for places and it's an anxious time for students, but the advice is not to panic."

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the admissions service UCAS, said: "The first thing to say, for those that are a little bit worried that they might be borderline to get their offer is that it's a good idea to go on to the UCAS website now and make sure you understand the process.

"It's worth being prepared so that on the day, if you haven't got a place you haven't got to find out how to do it."

She added: "The reality is most of clearing is done and dusted in that first week."

Last year of the 113,000 people across the UK who did not get university offers or meet the conditions of their offer, 47,000 found places through clearing. The numbers are likely to be similar this year, with concerns raised that thousands could miss out.

According to latest UCAS figures 669,956 people have applied to start courses this autumn, and there are around 350,000 places available.

It is the last year before tuition fees for English universities triple to £9,000 per year, which could fuel a dramatic rush for places.

Northern Ireland has seen the biggest increase in university applicants in the UK. Compared to the same period last year, there has been a 3.2% rise in candidates to 20,040 - well above the UK average of 0.8%.

Every year around 4,000 students leave here to go and study in England but with the increase in fees and cost of living, many are trying to study at home.

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