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University challenge on places

Screen wars are looming as the BBC and ITV prepare to run rival listings for Higher and A-level students searching for a university place.

When the six-week clearing process begins on August 19, school and college leavers will be able to sit at home and look through hundreds of Ceefax and Teletext pages detailing unfilled places on 12,000 degree and HND courses. Higher results will be available on August 8.

Ceefax has joined with the University and College Admission Service to display up-to-the-minute details of vacancies at 197 higher education institutions.

While the free Ceefax directory is being welcomed by careers advisers, it is bound to be unpopular with Teletext, which charges universities Pounds 1,500 per page per week to advertise clearing vacancies on ITV and Channel 4. Last year the service attracted more than 120 institutions and brought in revenue of Pounds 500,000.

Bill Watson, advertising manager with Hobsons Publishing, the Cambridge-based firm which markets the pages for Teletext, said: "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 after several universities asked 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," Mr Clifton said.

Final 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.

Last year, 38,292 students out of the total higher education intake of 265,536 found places through the clearing system. Universities, which depend on student numbers for funding, currently spend more than Pounds 10 million a year on television, radio and newspaper recruitment advertising and will be using every means at their disposal to reach prospective undergraduates in August and September.

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."

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