University places hit record high
University places were still being snapped up today as new figures showed that record numbers of students have already had their places confirmed.
Just a day after A-level results were published, data from the admissions service Ucas revealed that 412,170 people have now been accepted on to degree courses, up 3% on the same point last year.
Of these, 360,500 are heading off to their first choice of course, while more than 7,200 have found a place through clearing.
About 162,430 students are currently eligible for clearing - the annual process that matches those without places with degrees that have vacancies.
A breakdown of the latest figures show that 31,640 students have had places confirmed on their second, or "insurance" course, with a further 80,030 people still waiting to have offers confirmed.
There are 5,340 applicants who went through the main application scheme but did not get their required results or a university offer and have now found places in clearing. This is down slightly from 5,570 who had found courses this way at the same point last year.
The drop may be due to more people being accepted on to their first and second choice of courses, meaning they did not go through clearing.
In addition, there are about 1,900 students who have bypassed the main admissions scheme and found places directly through clearing this year.
And 320 students have been accepted on to courses through adjustment, the process that allows students who have done better than expected to switch to a different course or university.
The statistics come amid indications that record numbers of people will be starting degree courses this autumn, with Ucas saying that the total number of people going to university could top half a million for the first time.
Universities are still competing for bright students , with reports that some universities are lowering their entry requirements to fill places.
And a number of the UK's leading institutions are taking part in a bid to snap up top students who are still looking for places, or seeking to trade their offer.
More places are available to would-be students than ever before, amid moves to open up the system.
There is now no limit on the numbers of students with an A and two B grades at A-level that universities can recruit, allowing them to offer last-minute places to youngsters meeting this threshold. The Government has also made 30,000 more places available.
About 35,000 courses were on offer in clearing when the process - which matches students without places to degrees with vacancies - opened yesterday morning. Many of these are aimed at students with top grades.
A fresh snapshot survey of the Ucas clearing website taken this afternoon by the Press Association found 18 Russell Group universities, considered among the best in the country, still have courses listed in clearing, including in subjects such as science, maths and languages.
Collectively, there are around 3,300 courses listed at these institutions for students in England, mainly for youngsters with the highest grades, although the numbers actually available may well be smaller as institutions make offers.
Information from all universities found:
:: Bristol University said it had gone into clearing for a "very small" number of courses in national shortage areas, such as modern languages, social policy and childhood studies and is now full.
:: Birmingham University also said it was full, and had only been clearing for "a couple of hours" yesterday morning.
:: Bath Spa also reported that it had filled all its places, following three and a half hours of clearing activity yesterday, while Bath University said that as of this morning, it was no longer advertising clearing places for home students except for a couple of language programmes, where there are 12 to 15 spaces left.
:: Buckinghamshire New University said it still has some availability, although some courses - including a number in healthcare - have already closed. Cumbria University also said that many of its courses were closed, with a limited number of spaces on a range of courses and Aston said it had a "handful" of places left and expects to be full by the weekend.
:: Derby said it had "limited" space on a number of programmes but the picture was changing on an hourly basis, and Chichester said it has places.
Last year, around one in 12 of those who used clearing to go into university did so on A-level results day, Ucas said, but it warned applicants not to wait too long as around two thirds of those using clearing will be placed by Monday.
Russell Group director-general Dr Wendy Piatt said: "Some Russell Group universities may have more places to offer through clearing to well-qualified students who have narrowly missed out on their first choice."
Nick Foskett, vice-chancellor of Keele University, said: "An increase in spaces at universities for 2014/15 means more students have been accepted into their first choice, even if they have missed their target by the odd grade."
A Birmingham University spokeswoman said that in common with all institutions, it sometimes accepts an applicant who has "just missed their offer grades".
A-level results for England, Wales and Northern Ireland showed that 98% of exams scored at least an E this summer, down by 0.1 percentage points - the first time it has fallen in 32 years.
Just over one in four (26%) of exams were awarded an A* or A grade, down 0.3 percentage points on last summer.
But the proportion of A* grades rose to 8.2%, up 0.6 percentage points on 2013.
Exam board bosses said the decline in pass rates could be fuelled by more students deciding to take "facilitating subjects" - traditional subjects often favoured by top universities - even if they are less likely to perform well in them.