Traditionally sought after undergraduate courses such as Law, Medicine, Economics, English Literature, History and Philosophy are still available at Russell Group universities, many of which have embarked on ambitious expansion plans in recent years in order to take on more students.
Less than a week before A-level results day, Bristol and York universities both had 100 courses with empty places. Meanwhile Liverpool had 918, Cardiff had 345 and Exeter had 270.
The lifting of student number controls in England in 2015 means that universities can now recruit as many undergraduates as they see fit.
But the move has led to accusations that they now act like commercial ventures, seeking to maximise their revenue by recruiting as many students as possible.
Robert Eaglestone, a professor in literature at Royal Holloway University, said: “Since the cap was removed, the higher tier universities have been hoovering up students.
“All students bring in £9,250 so they use arts subjects like English and Philosophy to cross subsidise other disciplines. If you are looking at your university’s bottom line, these are obvious choices for expansion.”
He said that top universities are now using the clearing process as a “commercial advantage” on their rivals, rather than its original purpose which was to give students who have missed their grades a second chance.