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Are more selective providers in Clearing this year?

It seems that the kinds of provider most active in clearing is changing again. David Kernohan plots the trends for "Magic Monday".
This article is more than 1 year old

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

No matter what we think we know about the sector, some prejudice still remains.

If I asked you to describe the kind of provider that recruits heavily in clearing, you probably wouldn’t use the word “selective”. You might talk about the kind of university that recruits locally, from non-traditional sources. You may even speculate as to the date of foundation of the provider. But you’d certainly be thinking that high A level scores might not be the usual requirement.

In fact, the big winners in Clearing 2022 in England are medium tariff providers.

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Just another magic Monday

In the early days of the post-Browne settlement lower tariff providers made use of the removal of the student number cap to expand more rapidly than they had previously been able to. Round about 2015 or 2016, this began to change – with overall placed applicants at lower tariff providers tending to decline. At this point clearing also started to become more significant for high and medium tariff providers.

“Magic Monday” is generally the most popular day in Clearing. Also known as JCQ+4, in a regular (non-2021) year it rounds up the first weekend of Clearing activity. Most applicants that are not placed on results day and that end up with a place are placed by the time we get the JCQ+4 data.

Here, I’ve shown recruitment on each of the first four data reporting days of Clearing for each year since 2013 for our three tariff groups for every year since 2014.

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To be clear, this is all placed applicants each day. Though the majority of these will be clearing acceptances, delayed confirmation of firm and insurance offers may also be a factor.

The rise of the middle

Middle tariff providers have dominated this busiest day of clearing since 2016. We’re also seeing a pre-pandemic trend in lower tariff providers getting back into the game, as it were from a 2018 low. More 18 year old applicants from England were placed at medium tariff providers on “Magic Monday” in 2022 than in any year on record – for low tariff providers the peak was in 2014,  and for high tariff providers the peak was pre-pandemic, in 2019.

The pandemic years saw higher tariff providers over-recruit via unexpectedly generous A level marking triggering more offers – but that didn’t stop a 2,640 “Magic Monday” rush last year and an astonishing 4,010 the year before.

Conversely, for Wales and Northern Ireland domiciled students, lower tariff providers dominate (a much smaller) clearing again this year, having also done so in 2021.

What happens next

As we continue through the clearing process we’ll see less movement from here in, and what we do see will likely be concentrated in lower tariff providers, who have always dominated the later part of the clearing cycle. Mature students tend to make later decisions, and also tend to apply to local providers – perhaps because they are less likely to be planning to relocate in order to study.

But for years to come it does look like medium tariff providers are becoming increasingly active in clearing. Perhaps this means we need a new set of stereotypes.

Explainer: tariff groups

What’s a tariff group? You take the average tariff score of students accepted by a provider, and then rank all providers. The top third are high tariff, the middle third are medium tariff, and the lower third are lower tariff. You generally see this in the Guardian league table, so here’s how that stacks up based on what it published in 2021.

Clearly things have changed since then, and the Guardian doesn’t give you all providers. But hopefully this gives you some idea as to how the sector relates to these groupings (perhaps UCAS should publish accessibly which providers are in which tariff group, something that feels like could be an official statistic).


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