Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Scramble for University Places as Pass Rate Hits a Record High; Clearing Website Goes Offline as Thousands Try to Beat Fees Rise

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Scramble for University Places as Pass Rate Hits a Record High; Clearing Website Goes Offline as Thousands Try to Beat Fees Rise

Article excerpt

Byline: Anna Davis, Mark Blunden and Rob Parsons

TENS of thousands of A-level students were today locked into the biggest scramble for university places in history as the pass rate rose to a record level and courses filled up in minutes.

Passes increased for the 29th year in a row but the number of courses available through clearing was slashed -- triggering a rush for places before tuition fees rise to [pounds sterling]9,000 next year.

The misery deepened as the Ucas site allowing students to access their results and find clearing places was taken down after traffic quadrupled to 450 hits per second.

Keith Hudson, deputy head at Mill Hill County High School, said: "I've seen more distress here than I have ever seen in my life."

The pass rate rose to a record 97.8 per cent, compared with 97.6 per cent last year. The numbers with A and A* grades stayed at 27 per cent, the first time the top grade has levelled out in 15 years.

Boys have closed the gap with girls on A grades, with 8.2 per cent achieving the mark -- up from 7.9 per cent in 2010. Girls dipped slightly to 8.2 per cent from 8.3 per cent last year.

But the key issue was the race for a place before the fees rise comes in. An estimated 200,000 students fought for 29,400 clearing courses, down from 33,205 last year. Ucas's website crashed after 176,000 logged on by 9.30am -- four times as many as last year.

Online searches for "clearing places" increased by more than 400 per cent on last year, according to Google.

Universities minister David Willetts spent the morning at Ucas head office where staff managed to get the website working again by lunchtime. Mr Willetts said: "It is emotional. I feel for people who haven't got their predicted grades and are worried they haven't got the place on the course they want, but clearing can help."

English and psychology courses at Goldsmiths, University of London, were closed by lunchtime, with just 50 places on other courses left out of the 200 available this morning. …

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