If the University and Colleges Admissions Service can do a deal with suppliers the first batch of free WAP (wireless application protocol) phones could go out in the autumn. By early next year every aspiring undergraduate will have their own PIN number so they can track their applications on the UCAS website.
Around half of university entrance applications for September 2001 are expected to be made online but offers of places will continue to be made in writing and issued by post.
It is not clear yet how many of the 300,000 teenagers applying for higher education courses will be given the free mobile phones. Or how they will be allocated. The present system puts enormous pressure on students immediately after Higher and A-level results with the thouands who fail to reach - or exceed - the required grades scrambling for places through clearing.
The deal should do for the mobile phone companies what the special student finance deals have done for the banks, securing loyalty early on and keeping customers for life. WAP phones, which sell for as little as pound;29.99, give unlimited Internet access. Www.ucas.com has 1.5 million hits a week, and is one of the busiest in Britain. Its web inquiry service, piloted in several thousand schools, goes live for applications to university in 2001 at the end of this year.
Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, said: "Students have all got mobiles now and if they are offered one free, with an extremely good call rate and access to information as well, that will be very attractive."
More than a quarter of Britain's 27 million mobile phone users are under the age of 18.