'Buyers market' for students still searching for university places

Tens of thousands of degree courses are still available, as universities scramble to snap up students who have not yet secured a place.

Figures suggest there has never been a better time to enter clearing amid a fall in overall applications and acceptances and fewer students free to enter the annual process.

A Press Association survey suggests that the vast majority of universities, including many top Russell Group institutions, are entering clearing.

There have been descriptions of a "buyers market" for would-be students this year.

The latest Ucas snapshot shows that 437,070 people had been accepted on to courses as of midnight on Thursday, down 1.3% compared to the same point last year - around 20,700 fewer in total.

A breakdown shows that more applicants have found a place through clearing compared to the same point last year, with the numbers placed through the system up by 6%, to 11,180.

Clearing, which opened on Thursday, is the annual system that matches students without degree places, such as those that failed to meet the entry requirements for their chosen course, with courses that still have availability.

The number of students eligible to be placed in clearing is down 12% (around 18,000 people) compared to last year, the figures show.

The falls mean many options are available to students hoping to start degree courses this autumn with less competition among those still searching for a place.

There have been reports that a number of universities are lowering their entry requirements to attract students.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said: "At the start of today (Friday) there were 134,840 applicants in Clearing, compared to 153,010 in 2016 and with nearly 45,000 courses looking for students there is a huge amount of choice out there."

The Press Association survey, based on 148 universities, shows a total of 26,654 undergraduate courses showing availability for students in England.

Almost nine out of 10 of the institutions included in the survey (132) were advertising at least one course on the Ucas website for these students.

Ms Marchant added: "I would urge anyone who is unsure of their next steps to visit ucas.com where you can search all the courses available and where there is lots of information about all of your options."

Students can also get in touch with the admissions service via phone or social media, she said, as well as signing up for a "direct contact service" which allows universities and colleges to get in touch with unplaced applicants.

Overall, 649,700 people had applied to start degree courses by June 30, the last deadline for applications, down around 4% (25,190) compared with this point last year, according to previous Ucas figures.

A breakdown shows a 4% decrease in UK applicants, while the number of EU students fell by 5%, and international student numbers were up 2%.