Screen wars are looming between the BBC and ITV as they prepare to run rival vacancy listings for A-level students frantically searching for a university place.
When the six-week clearing process begins on August 19,anxious school and college leavers, whose grades have set them in hot pursuit of an undergraduate place, will be able to sit at home and look through hundreds of Ceefax and Teletext pages giving details of unfilled slots on about 12,000 degree and HND courses.
Ceefax has joined forces with the University and College Admissions Service to display comprehensive, up-to-the-minute details of vacancies at 197 higher education institutions during clearing, which opens four days afterA-level results are published.
But while the free Ceefax directory is being welcomed by careers advisers, it is bound to be unpopular with Teletext, which charges universities about Pounds 1,500 per page per week to advertise clearing vacancies on ITV and Channel 4 - a service which last year attracted more than 120 institutions and brought in Pounds 500,000.
Bill Watson, advertising manager with Hobsons Publishing, the Cambridge-based firm which is selling educational ad pages for Teletext, said: "As a result of the Ceefax move we are expecting a slight drop in the number of universities advertising with us. But we offer a more flexible, tailored service than Ceefax and our ads will be appearing from July."
Peter Clifton, editor of Ceefax, approached UCAS about a clearing partnership after several universities rang him to ask if the BBC could provide a listings service.
"Ceefax is available for about 22 hours a day, seven days a week, so students using our clearing pages will never have to suffer the frustration of not being able to get through on a university's phone hotlines," he said.
The technical details are still being finalised, but Mr Clifton hopes the information wired from UCAS headquarters in Cheltenham will be updated several times a day, reducing the likelihood of students pinning their hopes on a vacancy which has already been filled.
Colin Thompson, chief executive of the Careers Enterprise Group, which provides several hundred careers advisers in Surrey, Kent, Buckinghamshire and London, welcomed the Ceefax initiative. He said: "The more sources of accurate course information that youngsters receive during clearing, the better. If they are well-informed when they come into a guidance centre then our advisers will be in a much better position to help them."
Last year, 38,292 students (14 per cent of the total higher education intake of 265,536) gained places through clearing.
Universities, mindful of the financial consequences of failing to fill student quotas on every course, now spend more than Pounds 10 million a year on television, radio and newspaper recruitment advertising and they will be using every means at their disposal to reach prospective undergraduates in August and September.
Students will be able to surf the Net, with many universities planning to put vacancies on their World Wide Web sites.
Paul Featonby, head of information technology at UCAS, said: "I think more and more students will be popping into their school, college or careers guidance centre to log on to university sites." The Independent will again be publishing comprehensive UCAS listings during clearing and some universities are making arrangements to publish vacancies in their local newspapers.
Mr Featonby said: "We want to ensure that comprehensive information is available to as many students as possible as readily as possible."