More than 3,600 places have already gone through the clearing system, as students continue to chase the last remaining university vacancies.

Figures published by the admissions service Ucas show that a record 195,415 people are now eligible for clearing.

And 3,692 students have already secured a place through the system. Some of these will be Scottish students who gained their place after their results were published earlier this month.

The figure is down on last year, when around 4,000 youngsters had taken up a clearing place by this point, just a day after the publication of A-level results.

Clearing matches students who did not get the grades they needed, or who turned down offers or received none, to courses with vacancies.

Universities minister David Willetts yesterday suggested there will be 40,000 or more places in clearing this year.

But with 195,000 eligible for the process this could still mean that potentially, five students are fighting for every place.

Some students will now drop out and not enter clearing.

In total, 401,000 students have already had their university places confirmed, a rise of 7,500 on 2010, Ucas said.

And around 78,000 youngsters are still awaiting a decision from their chosen university.

The figures come as the head of Ucas Mary Curnock Cook said “lessons have been learned” from the debacle that saw a crucial website shut down yesterday.

The rush for clearing places was exacerbated when a fivefold increase in the number of visits to the Ucas Track website forced the site to close temporarily.

Tens of thousands of students were left in limbo when the service, which allows students to check if they have secured their university place, was shut down.

Ms Curnock Cook today told BBC News that the spike in visits, up to 644 a second at its peak, was down to users finding out the site had “soft-launched” and alerting their peers through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

”I think our lessons learned from yesterday was that just in the space of 12 months the way that young people communicate with each other using social media has changed out of all proportion,” she said.