Number of Scots missing out on higher education has doubled in a decade

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Tom McDonald

It is now harder for Scottish students to gain a place at Scottish universities, according to a report from public spending watchdog Audit Scotland. The report attributes this strain to the cap on Scottish places as well as higher rates of tuition gained from accepting Northern Irish, Welsh, English and non-EU students.

As of 2015, Scottish students made up 66% of those studying in Scotland, down from 75% in 2005. In the most recent 2015/16 UCAS cycle almost one in five Scots applying to university did not receive any offers from a Scottish university, up from 15% in 2010. In absolute terms, the number of Scottish applicants who failed to gain a place at Scottish universities has doubled between 2005 and 2015.

Scottish places at Scottish universities are capped by the Scottish government to keep free tuition affordable. The report recommends that the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council “undertake and publish research on trends in applications, offer rates and acceptances for Scottish university places to assess what impact the limits on funded places are having on access to the university system for Scottish and EU students”.

At the University of Glasgow Scottish and EU students’ tuition fees, paid for by the Scottish Government, are currently £1,820 per academic year. For students from the rest of the UK tuition fees are worth £9,000 per academic year. The price of study for non-EU students at the University of Glasgow currently varies from £14,900 to £42,000 per academic year.

The report also notes that this trend is starker at Scotland’s ancient universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee. At ancient universities, non-EU students now make up 39% of the student population.

Alastair Simm, the director of Universities Scotland, the representative body of Scotland’s nineteen higher education institutions, said, “It is getting harder and harder for Scottish applicants to get an offer of a place at Scotland’s universities. That’s not because universities want to limit opportunities but because the number of well-qualified applicants far outnumbers the strict controls on the number of funded places that universities can fill.”

The majority of these fee-paying students are from China, with students from the USA coming in second.

Audit Scotland also warned of the cap on Scottish students impacting social mobility, saying: “Achieving the targets without increasing the existing number of funded places will likely mean fewer students from less deprived backgrounds being offered a university place.”


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