Clearing could be 'busiest' yet as students' gap year plans are disrupted - Ucas
UNIVERSITIES face their "busiest" ever period of clearing as a record number of students are due to take up degree places this year through the system, the head of the admissions service has predicted.
School leavers who have had their gap year plans disrupted by Covid-19 will be among those who choose to bypass the main application scheme in favour of searching for a course through clearing, Ucas said.
With pupils receiving their A-level results this week, nearly three in four of the UK's top institutions have vacancies on their undergraduate programmes on the clearing website.
Clare Marchant, Ucas's chief executive, believes as many as 80,000 applicants could find a place via clearing, up from 73,325 last year, despite fears about the impact of Covid-19 on the student experience.
More than 4,500 courses at the elite Russell Group universities still have spaces for students in England via the clearing process.
Ms Marchant said it was a "good year" for prospective students in Britain who wanted to attend university in the autumn as institutions will be competing to fill their courses at a time of uncertainty.
The "fragile" situation, where the number of overseas students could fall amid Covid-19, alongside the fact there are fewer 18-year-olds in the population, plays to UK "students' strengths", she said.
"I think we will end up with significant numbers through clearing," Ms Marchant said.
"I think it's going to be probably the busiest yet."
Clearing has become an increasingly popular route to securing a university place in recent years, in part due to reforms that lifted the cap on the number of students universities could recruit.
It is also used by students who may have changed their mind about their course or university and want to find somewhere new, or those who have done better than expected and want to trade places.
This summer, Ms Marchant expects to see students whose gap year plans have been affected by travel restrictions due to the pandemic - or students who had planned to do year-long internships before starting higher education - also applying directly through clearing for a university place for this autumn.
"I am expecting there to be a number of those," the Ucas boss said.
"(They're saying) 'I'm not going to defer, or I'm going to come in for the very first time'."
Several leading universities, including Warwick, Bristol and Sheffield, said they have already heard from applicants - who were due to start in 2021 after a gap year - requesting to start the course this autumn instead.
But Ms Marchant admitted that more local lockdowns in the weeks to come could "influence student choice" ahead of enrolment in the autumn, as she added the situation was "exceptionally fragile".