Race for University Space


Record numbers of school leavers in England are flocking to snap up university places and fill gaps left by the collapse in EU student applications, according to the latest data.

The number of students accepting a place has outstripped last year’s record, with 435,000 students finding spots within a day of receiving their A-level results, an increase of 5,000 on last year, according to data from the University and College Admissions Service (Ucas).

This year, 149,000 students were also still hunting for places in clearing the day after A-level results, a 15% rise on 2020. A further 11,000 had already found places, including those who applied directly to clearing.

The fastest growth in acceptances is at leading universities, which have already accepted 20,000 more students compared with previous years after a record-breaking number of students received top grades in their A-levels.

The extra UK-based students are filling some spaces that would usually have been taken up by people from the EU. Acceptances from EU students have halved for this autumn, which will be the first year that students based in the EU who do not have a British passport will be required to pay much higher international fees.

The fall is also partly counteracted this year by a 9% increase in acceptances for non-EU students from outside the UK.

Admissions officers are warning that there is a shortages of places on the most popular courses at the most competitive universities, and any remaining spaces are expected to be filled very quickly.

Tracey Lancaster, the deputy vice-chancellor at Leeds Beckett University, said there were “different forces at play” in clearing this year, with students who have narrowly missed their grades receiving unanticipated rejections from universities that would ordinarily have accepted them, leaving them underprepared for clearing. Other students have performed better than expected but are struggling to trade up due to the shortage of places on some courses.

“You’re seeing more people needing information and support, having had three to four years of an increase in social media activity. We’ve seen more people turning to phones for help because their position is slightly more complex,” she said.

The higher numbers in clearing come despite more students accepting an offer at their first choice, with 7% more students able to take up their places than last year.

There was also a greater rise in the number of students from more affluent postcodes quickly snapping up places at university, with 9% more finding places within a day compared with 6% of those from the poorest areas.

The gap between private and state school A-level grades grew to its widest in the modern era this year, confirming predictions that teacher-assessed grades would exacerbate inequality.

The figures also show a 36% increase, to 6,000, of sixth-formers in England holding offers who are choosing to defer. This could be due partly to applications increasing by 10%, as well as to students who received higher grades than expected choosing to reapply, or because courses are oversubscribed.

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