PUPILS will face a tough scramble for university places this year as thousands across Scotland prepare to receive their exam results tomorrow.

A snapshot survey of ­universities north of the Border has shown only a few institutions this summer will enter the clearing system - which matches prospective students with available places.

That means those who have missed out on their expected grades, or done better than expected, will face tough competition for any remaining spaces.

However, because of the way the system operates, the majority of Scottish students - some 96 per cent - will already have secured a university place without the need to go into clearing.

In addition, figures from last year show more than 1,000 Scots were able to secure a place through the clearing system, compared to just a few hundred from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Currently, only the West of Scotland, Edinburgh Napier, Highlands and Islands and Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh - as well as the Dumfries and Galloway campus of Glasgow University - have available places.

Courses with free places include nursing, the built environment, computing, journalism, product design, and health and social policy.

The universities of Glasgow Caledonian, Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, and Stirling may go into clearing for some courses, but as in previous years, institutions over-subscribed, such as St Andrews, in Fife, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen will not.

Because of the separate admissions system for students from the rest of the UK (rUK), who now pay fees of up to £9,000 a year, more institutions will have clearing places available for those from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So far, Aberdeen, Robert Gordon, Edinburgh Napier, Queen Margaret University, ­Glasgow and Strathclyde have indicated they will have some clearing places on courses for rUK students. However, these students have no impact on the places available for Scottish pupils.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, which conducted the survey, said those pupils who had missed out on their expected grades should stay calm. "Recent years have seen very strong performance in Highers and we're sure the hard work of pupils will pay off with a place at university for the majority that want one. Clearing is open to Scots again this year and places are available in a few universities, and in a wide variety of courses.

"While clearing options are obviously finite, more than 1,300 Scots got a place through this route last year and Scots are not competing for places with those from the rest of the UK."

Pupils who miss out on their grades can also secure a place in the further education sector, with many college courses now leading on to university.

Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Learning, said: "There will be disappointments and some surprises but whatever the case, options and advice are available to help pupils what to do next."