Students who are looking for courses in clearing have been warned the number of courses has dropped due to an “administrative blip”.

One university blamed the error for showing more than 500 as available when they should not have been.

It means that on A-Level results day, the availability of courses for those who do not get into their first choices was down on last week – most significantly at the University of Liverpool.

As of Wednesday morning, a PA news agency snapshot of the UK’s largest higher education providers showed there were 22,685 courses with vacancies for students living in England, down from 23,280 on Friday.

The University of Liverpool had shown 529 courses as available in clearing on the Ucas website last week but it is understood this should not have been the case and was an “administrative blip”.

A spokeswoman for the university said: “The University of Liverpool will be in clearing for a small number of high-quality candidates in a range of subjects, but we are unable to be more specific until results day tomorrow, when we will know exactly which courses might have spaces available.

“The Ucas clearing pages were live for a period of time for pre-qualified applicants, as is the case each year. We removed the pages while we determine which courses are available in advance of results day tomorrow, when we will advertise any vacancies.”

The change saw options at the Russell Group universities – of which Liverpool University is a member – dwindle compared to last week, with 1,785 courses at 15 of the 24 elite institutions as of Wednesday morning, compared with 2,358 courses at 17 of them on Friday.

This is expected to be one of the most competitive years for university places and admissions service Ucas has acknowledged universities have been more cautious in their offer-making.

The organisation’s chief executive, Clare Marchant, said they have seen a rise in interest in apprenticeship content on their website this year and that apprenticeships have therefore been highlighted “more prominently” to students.

She said: “For students without an offer, Ucas emails them suggested matches via Clearing Plus and signposts Career Finder, which includes apprenticeships, giving them visibility of their many options.

“We’ve highlighted apprenticeship opportunities more prominently to applicants in our communications this year because this summer we have seen a 43% increase in unique page views of our apprenticeship content on ucas.com.”