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A-level results 2016: Number of universities offering Freephone clearing hotlines rises

A-level pupils going through clearing this year are less likely to face considerable phone charges after the number of universities using Freephone numbers nearly doubled in 12 months, a Schools Week investigation can reveal.

Last summer, Schools Week highlighted the potential high costs for young people needing to ring round universities to secure a place on a course through clearing.

Kingston university, in south west London, was, at the time, only providing a 0844 number for its hotline. With a potential charge from mobile phone providers of 44p per minute, plus a 7p a minute charge from the university, the cost of a call to Kingston could have cost a teenager more than £10.

But this year the university has switched to a Freephone number. According to a new analysis by Schools Week, it is one of 24 universities now offering a Freephone number – which start with either 0800 or 0808 and are free to call from mobile phones – up from 14 last year.

Pam Tatlow, from Million Plus, the association for modern universities, said it was good news more universities were offering 0800 numbers. She added: “If students, or their parents, are worried about the cost at all, they should mention that to the university when they call and the university will undoubtedly call them back. They want to help.”

Dr Andy Homer, director of admissions at Kingston, said: “Following feedback from students, we have revised arrangements and worked with our phone provider to deliver a Freephone number for our clearing hotline this year.”

A-level results will be released on Thursday, and students who miss their grades will be expected to call universities with places available to verbally confirm their suitability.

Which? University’s guide to making calls during clearing warns that students may need to undergo an interview process which can take up to 30 minutes.

However, despite the increase in Freephone numbers, 108 universities still use a standard landline number, which are charged at various rates, usually under 10p a minute.

Last year, The Oxford Academy headteacher Niall McWilliams warned that non-Freephone numbers could be prohibitive to pupils “if they are from a deprived background”. His school offers students the use of school phones.

UCAS offers help with exam results from careers advisors on a free number on Thursday – 0808 100 8000.

Schools Week has also put together this guide for teachers about the clearing process, and has created a spreadsheet with all the university clearing numbers, as well as links to their clearing websites.

Click here to view our university clearing numbers spreadsheet.

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  1. The whole point of modern phone tariffs is that (for most people) calls to numbers starting 01, 02 and 03 are no longer paid at a per-minute rate.

    Nowadays, most callers pay a set monthly fee for an allowance of calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers that should cover all of their usage. This applies on landlines and on mobiles, including on pay-as-you-go deals.

    Anyone still paying a per-minute rate for any or all of their calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers is very likely on the wrong call plan for their needs.

    Provision of a freephone number isn’t strictly necessary. Ending the usage of premium rate 084, 087 and 09 numbers is the goal.

    Callers also need to be aware of fake premium rate numbers given out by scammers on fake “call connection” websites. Never use numbers found directly in Google search results or on third-party websites, especially if the number starts 070, 084, 087 or 09. Use only numbers found on the official website of whoever you are calling.