Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

In Tumultuous Fight to Fill Places, All Bets Are Off: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

In Tumultuous Fight to Fill Places, All Bets Are Off: News

Article excerpt

Observers predict admissions turmoil as Russell Group members join clearing. Jack Grove writes.

Universities potentially face their most turbulent and uncertain admissions period ever as many top research-intensive institutions enter clearing for the first time, leading sector figures have warned.

Half of the 24 universities in the Russell Group have so far confirmed that they will compete for high-achieving students as they receive their A-level results on 15 August.

The universities of Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Southampton and Warwick are among those that expect to have places available - last year an estimated 11,500 vacancies at Russell Group universities went unfilled.

Institutions have also adapted their offer-making to attract students with A-level grades of ABB or above (or their equivalent in other qualifications) as they are exempt from universities' student number controls.

According to council minutes published in March and April, Newcastle University was "making as many ABB offers as possible", with the number of offers overall up by 20 per cent on last year.

Dominic Shellard, vice-chancellor of De Montfort University, said the decision to lower the quota exemption threshold from AAB to ABB this year would ramp up competition for students because many institutions in effect were outside number controls.

"At many places, almost every student applying will be getting ABB, so it is a completely free market for student recruitment," he said.

"We are talking about millions of pounds at stake, so universities will use some very muscular tactics to recruit students in clearing."

Noting that institutions would struggle to absorb year-on-year undergraduate losses, Professor Shellard predicted that some might offer scholarships and bursaries to poach or retain ABB students.

The "whole dynamic of recruitment had changed" since higher fees were introduced, he observed.

When he was pro vice-chancellor at the University of Sheffield from 2008 to 2010, "admissions ran from September to January and that was it", he said. "Admissions is now an all-year affair for all types of university.

"The idea that clearing is a process for runners-up has also changed as many high-quality students are going into it."

The art of the offer

However, changes in offer-making this year will be more significant to recruitment than clearing activity, predicted Dan Shaffer, senior manager at Supporting Professionalism in Admissions, a body that supports university admissions teams.

Universities have taken advantage of new rules that allow them to recruit 3 per cent above their undergraduate-places quota without facing a fine, said Mr Shaffer, who is head of professionalism in admissions at the organisation.

"Many institutions do not appear to have been so cautious (in their offers) because they have a little more flexibility," he said.

The number of students "trading up" to other universities if they unexpectedly achieved ABB would again be fairly limited as applicants tend not to change courses at the last minute, he added.

Last year, only 1,300 of the 464,900 students accepted to courses through Ucas went through its "Adjustment" process for those with better-than- expected grades.

Nick Foskett, vice-chancellor of Keele University, also believed that clearing activity among Russell Group universities would be limited because they have already made many more offers to students.

He said the leading research-intensives that do enter clearing are likely to be fishing for a "very small group of students - those who have been rejected from their first-choice institution after missing out on straight As". …

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