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Brexit Could Bring Clearing Opportunities - but there are warnings

The UK referendum vote to leave the European Union is worrying for universities, but could give golden opportunities to students who need or want to use Clearing to secure a place at uni.

In the post-capped Higher Education environment, universities saw an 11% rise in students coming from EU countries in 2015/16 (via Times Higher Education – registration/paywall) and for some it was much higher. The University of East Anglia, for example, has seen a rise of nearly 26% since 2014.

HE minister Jo Johnson has pledged to honour commitments to EU students who are already here, but with the UK exit potentially coming as soon as two years from now, unis are wondering whether they will see a decline in EU student numbers and – more to the point – how big that drop will be.

For universities that have been planning (and accounting) for an ongoing increase in EU students, and which may have adopted strategies for growth as a result, Brexit means there could be many places up for grabs.

Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of admissions service UCAS, has said that Clearing “has matured into a standard and widely used admissions route” and it is no longer regarded as just a way for students whose A levels came in lower than expected to get into a less-popular course.

Alix Delany, UEA’s head of admissions, agrees. “Clearing in no longer a dirty word,” she said. Indeed, it is used as a post-qualification admission system, particularly by international students (who frequently get their results before applying to university). Long before A level results come out on 18 August, Clearing (which opens on 5 July) will already be in use by those who have already got their results, for example International Baccalaureate students (whose results are out on 5 July).

It is also used to accept applications for courses that don’t start in September – something that many pupils fail to consider. UEA, for instance, has a BSc Adult Nursing course that starts in January. One reason that Clearing provides a good route into nursing courses, Miss Delany said, is that the NHS wants a supply of graduates spread throughout the year and they have limits on the number of students they can accommodate in hospital placements at any one time. This means perfectly good applicants may have to be turned away for September entry, but they don’t realise there may be opportunities to join the same course, which simply starts later. Clearing gives them another chance.

Clearing is also used automatically by those who apply after 30 June – like those who never imagined they would go to uni but got good A levels after all – and it’s often used my mature students.

Even without the consequences of Brexit, STEM subjects could see a lot of vacancies this summer. “Universities want science students,” Miss Delany insisted, and Clearing could provide a great opportunity to study a science subject for those who missed out on places to study medicine, dentistry or veterinary med. As we’ve said recently on UniBox, there are routes into med-related work that don’t depend on a medical degree.

UEA took around 200 applicants through Clearing in 2015. Of those, around 50 were nursing students, 50 were in the sciences and 50 were overseas students.

It is also simply a fact of life, Miss Delany said, that universities see people not taking up their places for any number of personal reasons. So unis are always looking via Clearing and Adjustment (the UCAS system for pupils with unexpectedly great grades to approach new unis for competitive courses) for qualified students to account for this drop out. In 2015 UEA lost 10 students in Adjustment in 2015, but gained 10.

There are two main ways in which Clearing can give A level students great options to consider: as a second chance for those whose results were lower than they hoped, and as a way to shop around if they were better than expected.
But applicants need to consider the risks involved in suddenly changing tack. You probably haven’t visited the university or researched the course, and though it’s exciting to have new options, it’s important not to get swept up in the moment.

Universities with an unexpected number of places available through Clearing this summer may, for example, not have enough accommodation to house you. Are you ready and able to go and find your own room somewhere, especially if it’s a place you’ve never visited? What will that do to your first year experience? You need to ask them about housing, and be clear about whether you’d be getting the same deal that any non-Clearing student would get.

Miss Delany said that universities will typically give you some time to accept their offer of a Clearing place, so use that time wisely and ideally arrange a visit. If you can’t do it within their deadline, then ask for more time – and if they refuse, think carefully about what that says about the character of the institution.

And what if you did better than you thought you would? You could use Adjustment. But what if you were given an offer by your dream university for that perfect course, but you didn’t make it your first choice because you didn’t think you’d get the grades? Call them – they may want you, and they can use Clearing to process your application.

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Tue, 14 Feb 2017

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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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