Caution from universities in making offers ahead of A-level results day suggests they are confident students will make the grade, Ucas has said in the run-up to what could be one of the most competitive years for courses.
Some UK universities had just a handful or no courses at all available through the clearing process a week before the date that pupils will find out their results.
A PA news agency sample of 130 of the UK’s largest higher education providers showed just over 23,000 courses with vacancies for students living in England were available on the Ucas clearing site as of Friday.
Ofqual and UCAS meanwhile have sent a letter to students reassuring them that most will still get a place at their first choice of university.
Some universities had only a few courses available through clearing, with just four at both Glasgow University and Leeds University, while there was one at St George’s, University of London.
Bristol University said it had no clearing vacancies for 2022 and Imperial College London said it would “not be recruiting through clearing this year”.
UCL said any clearing vacancies will be advertised at 8am on results day, but warned that “it is unlikely” it will have any.
Durham University also said any vacancies would be advertised on the Ucas site after 8am on Thursday, while the University of St Andrews said it would not have courses available through Ucas clearing for 2022.
Six days ahead of exam results day, there was a total of 23,280 courses through clearing at 130 universities, the PA analysis showed.
Seventeen of the 24 elite Russell Group universities had vacancies on courses for English residents – a total of 2,358 courses between them.
A similar analysis last year showed 15 of the 24 Russell Group universities had vacancies on courses for English residents – a total of 3,085 courses between them – on the Ucas clearing site in the week before the 2021 results.
Clare Marchant, chief executive officer at Ucas, said the admissions service is predicting a “record, or near record, number of 18-year-olds getting their first choice this year”.
Her comments came after a report by Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, who said there could be 80,000 fewer top grades – A* or A – awarded than in 2021, meaning some 40,000 students could miss out on their course or university of choice.
Ms Marchant said birth rates had created a growing population of 18-year-olds in the UK, with an increased proportion of people this age applying for places this year – 44.1% – up on the previous two years.
She said: “While some universities have been more cautious with offer-making to prevent over-subscription, particularly in courses like medicine and dentistry where places are capped, this suggests they are confident their candidates will meet their offers.
“As in any year, some students will be disappointed when they receive their grades.”
She said the figures for courses available through clearing are “dynamic” as universities and colleges move their courses in and out of the system up until results day.
She said: “There are 26 of the most selective universities in clearing offering around 5,000 courses. This matches what we have seen in previous years.”
In a letter to prospective students, Ms Marchant and chief regulator of Ofqual, Dr Jo Saxton, have sought to reassure students about their results.
They added that it was “not meaningful” to compare this year’s results to the 2021 results, because it was “a different form of assessment.”
The letter, seen by the PA news agency, says: “In 2019, when exams last went ahead, around three quarters of UK 18-year-old applicants were placed at their first choice. Come results day this year, UCAS again expects most students will secure their place at their first choice.
“Universities understood what grades will look like overall this year and took this into account when making offers. It’s not meaningful to compare this year’s results to those in 2021, because it was a different form of assessment.
“If you don’t get the grades for your first choice, you may still be accepted by your university of choice, for example, if you are a grade lower than your offer.”