Picture of the University of Glasgow Credit / Steve Houldsworth


This article is the result of a Glasgow Guardian investigation.

How Scottish students are losing out on University places

It has become increasingly difficult for Scottish students to gain offers to study at universities in Scotland due to the cap on free places imposed by the Scottish National Party.

The number of students in Scotland who failed to win places at any university has doubled over the last decade of SNP rule. Figures published by Ucas show that in 2016, 16,645 Scottish students did not receive any offers from their prospective universities however, this figure sat much lower at 8,280 in 2007. The central issue is that the number of strong Scottish applications continues to rise but the number of available places for these students remains the same. The cap on the number of places that Scottish universities can offer to non-fee paying Scots was implemented following the abolition of tuition fees by the SNP. However, many believe the legislation has backfired on Scots who wish to attend university in their country.

Universities Scotland has stated that it is getting “harder and harder” for Scottish applicants to gain places at universities in Scotland due to the strict quotas that these institutions have to meet. Ucas clearing highlights the explicit inequalities within the application system itself. Clearing is a service provided to match students with spare spaces on university courses if they have not achieved the necessary grades for their first choice. Yet, a large majority of these spare places on Scottish courses are only available to fee paying students, as the universities have already filled up their Scottish and EU domiciled quota. Ucas further published figures that revealed applicants from England and Northern Ireland are 15% more likely to receive an offer from a Scottish university than their counterparts north of the border.

Liz Smith, Conservative Shadow Secretary for Education said that the “problem is very serious” and that “well qualified Scottish pupils are finding it impossible to get places in Scottish universities”. Yet many counter this view, believing that comparing fee-paying English students to Scottish applicants is unjust, and that they are not competing for the same places. Currently, English students attending university in Scotland pay around £9,000 in tuition fees alone, with international students paying up to £42,000 annually. Therefore, many argue that caps should indeed be placed upon students who receive education free of charge and that such comparisons do not hold up to scrutiny.

Regardless of differing opinions, there have been positive figures published in the past year indicating that the SNP’s quota has significantly aided social mobility for Scottish students. The entry rate of eighteen year olds who come from disadvantaged backgrounds is 51% higher than a decade ago. There are varying opinions surrounding the best way to stamp out the inequalities that are present in the application system. The most obvious of which seems to be the choice to re-instate tuition fees or make tuition free across the UK, which is the only true leveller.

However, under the leadership of the minority government this measure is unlikely to happen, with Nicola Sturgeon commenting: “For as long as I am First Minister, there will be no tuition fees in Scotland.”

It seems that ironically, due to the abolition of tuition fees, Scottish applicants are paying a heavy price for a choice that is not their own.

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