More than 50,000 UK-based students were trying to secure places on higher education courses a day after A-level exam results were released, figures show.
This year’s number is the highest since at least 2013, and compares to 39,230 in clearing at the same time last year.
The number of students accepted into UK courses has fallen this year, initial data from Ucas showed on Thursday, but remains the second highest on record.
On the day the results were released, 425,830 people had confirmed places – down 2% from the same point last year but up 16,870 from 2019 when the exams were last held, said Ucas.
As of Friday morning, there were 53,510 UK-domiciled 18-year-old candidates marked as ‘free to be placed in clearing’ on the Ucas website.
A total of 214,930 UK-domiciled students got their first choice, up from 226,910 last year.
The organisation’s chief executive, Clare Marchant, said the growth in the number of 18-year-olds in the population is likely to create “a more competitive environment for students in the years to come”.
The number of 18-year-old internationals getting their first pick this year rose to 19,830 from 18,870 last year.
The figure was down from just over 20,000 in 2019 and 2020, but up from each of the previous years dating back to 2013.
Places for Chinese, Indian and Nigerian students are all up – up 35%, 27% and 43% respectively from last year, Ucas said.
Education Committee chairman Robert Halfon said international students are seen as a ‘cash cow’ for universities because of their higher tuition fees, the Daily Telegraph reported.
He said: “While we should welcome overseas students, they should not be a substitute for ensuring UK students get first dibs.
“I think they’re seen as a cash cow and I think that’s wrong.”
The Office for Students (OfS) said that while international students make a “significant contribution”, it warned universities that an “overreliance on international student income can create financial risk” for institutions.
The OfS’s acting chief executive, Susan Lapworth, said: ‘Universities are able to recruit as many UK students as they want into most of their courses. Many places are available through compensation for UK students who have not yet secured a place for this year.
“International students make an important contribution to academic and cultural life at universities in England and recruiting international students ensures that less popular courses can take place each year, giving UK students more choice.
“We have signaled that an overreliance on international student tuition fees can create a financial risk for universities and we will continue to examine the impact of these recruitment patterns across the sector.”
A spokesman for Universities UK said domestic students still made up the vast majority of places on university courses, but the presence of international students “is something we should welcome, and the international education strategy government has the ambition to welcome at least 600,000 international education students to the UK each year by 2030”.
He said international students “have a huge positive economic impact for cities across the UK” and their fees are reinvested into a university’s business “including teaching UK students – ensuring that everyone can benefit from a high-quality experience”.
Hundreds of thousands of pupils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who took exams this summer for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak, received their results on Thursday.
A-level grades for UK students fell from pandemic highs but remained above 2019 levels.
Among the record clearing numbers this year, a Ucas spokesperson said there are a variety of reasons students are eligible to find a place in this system, including those who are “extremely savvy and constantly evaluating their options” or those who have an offer. confirmed but use the compensation to make a new choice.