Undergraduate admissions rules introduced last year, which left some Russell Group institutions with hundreds of unfilled places, have changed that. Several well known names have decided not to take any chances this year and to make places available in Clearing.
For the first time ever, the University of Sheffield is running a Clearing campaign, which starts this week and includes billboard posters (in Sheffield, Birmingham and Leicester) and digital advertising on Facebook and Twitter. Students will be able to browse courses online and pre-register their interest for Clearing places at the university 10 days before A-level results come out.
Last year´s problems stemmed from the government´s decision to relax student number controls, giving universities the freedom to offer places to unlimited numbers of high-achieving candidates (defined as those achieving AAB grades or higher), while placing a cap on the number of others they could recruit.
But this coincided with the biggest drop in top A-level results for 20 years (80,000 getting AAB against a previous prediction of 85,000), meaning some universities ended up with far more places than there were qualified candidates.
The University of Birmingham was the first Russell Group institution to catch on to this, offering 1,000 unconditional places to students expected to score straight As this year, which its vice-chancellor, Prof David Eastwood, said at the time was less about filling quotas "and more about attracting the best possible students to a highly selective university".
But the University and College Union president, Simon Renton, thinks there could be further problems ahead for the UK´s elite universities. "This government´s attempt to create a bogus market in higuer education has created so much instability and uncertainty that even our most selective universities are now vulnerable to under-recruitment," he says. "The goal posts are changed every year and institutions have to jockey for position. This approach is wholly inappropriate for higher education, where courses are planned over six-year cycles and stability is a pre-condition of quality."