At the University of Greenwich’s temporary admissions office, a bell rings repeatedly. The room, which resembles a call centre, erupts into applause at every ding – a signal that another applicant has accepted their place through clearing.
More than 250 students and academic staff have been manning the phone lines since 6am at the university’s main campus in south London. Clearing was once stigmatised as the option for young people who had done poorly on A-level results day, but the excitement on both sides of the phone shows it has morphed into an increasingly popular route into university.
“A lot of people have rearranged their annual leave to be here today,” said Mark Betteney, the deputy head of the school of education. “There was a time 10 years ago where we wouldn’t be recruiting over the summer but recruitment has become a lot more difficult.”
Betteney added that “there has been a pronounced trend of people not applying to university until they have got their results”. It’s a trend reflected across the country. Last year a record 17,520 students applied through clearing instead of using the normal process, an 18% increase on 2016, according to figures from Ucas.
As well as the phone lines, students at the university answer questions through live chats and Q&As on social media feeds. “I am busier this year than I was last year on the live chat,” said Kotryna Barkauskaitė, a third year sport sciences student. She added that the applicants get really happy and send her emojis when she can confirm their place at the university.
The university was keen to keep students who did better than their predicted grades. Diluk Rathnayake, who normally runs the Erasmus programme, was tasked with calling students who got higher than expected grades to tell them they qualified for a £2,000 bursary in their first year.
“They might say they have an offer at another university and I’ll ask which one and then talk about the benefits of studying here,” he said, adding that he was careful to not add any pressure as students make their decision.
Ibrahim, 19, who is now going to study economics at the University of Greenwich, described clearing as “a bit crazy”. “Everyone’s been on the phone to different universities. Everyone’s stressed, some end up happy and others not,” he said over the phone.
Shraddha, who has offers from the University of Greenwich and London South Bank University, said she was keen to study at Greenwich. Barkauskaitė said: “I’m biased obviously, but it’s the better option.”
There were students who were offered a spot on a foundation course after they missed out on the grades. But other universities had offered them the option to go directly into a three-year course. “Some universities today have dropped their threshold rates [grade requirements], we have remained consistent this morning,” Betteney said. “It puts pressure on other universities to do the same and it’s a retrograde step for the sector.”
Meanwhile, in Rochdale, sixth formers were anxious and excited to get their A level results. For Billal Iqbal, the stakes were even higher.
The 18-year-old had already booked his flights to the US, despite not knowing if his place at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology was confirmed. “If I didn’t get in I was just going to have to go on holiday,” said Iqbal, a student at Rochdale sixth form college.
Luckily, Iqbal achieved an A* in Maths, A in Physics, A in Computer Science and an A* in an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). He will fly to the north-eastern state on Saturday before beginning a mechanical engineering degree as part of a scholarship for international students.
It’s been a stressful two years, said Iqbal, admitting that gaining work experience in the sector was sometimes prioritised over his studies. “Last year, I finished college a week early and started a week late and I was working the entire time,” he added.
Molly Howarth, 19, had been studying at Rochdale for three years after recovering from a cancerous brain tumour. Her parents, who had also had an emotional morning, were with her as she slipped away to open her envelope in private.
“I’m really pleased – I got into York!” said Howard, through tears of joy. Having taken Psychology, Biology, Sociology and an EPQ , she was among the growing number of young women taking up Stem subjects at A-Level.
“I want to go into clinical psychology in the long-term. It’s something I thought about after being in hospital for all that time,” said Howarth. Her mum, Jane, said she was “really, really proud of her”.
Rochdale sixth form college’s pass rate this year was 99%, with the majority of students going on to study at university. But many have chosen to eschew fees in favour of apprenticeships.
Carson Holt, 18, who earned a C, B and an A* will take up a project management apprenticeship with Highways England this autumn.
Her first project will be managing Liverpool’s docks. “It’s quite daunting, there’s a lot of responsibility. I feel like it’s going to be really interesting though,” she said.