Fear that Scotland’s cap on university numbers is ‘locking out’ Scottish students

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:

Scottish school-leavers are being “locked out” of universities in their own country because of funding cuts that indirectly limit free tuition, according to Labour.

Only one-fifth of applicants who won places at Edinburgh University in 2015 and one-third who did so at St Andrews come from Scotland, public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has shown. For Glasgow School of Art – an accredited part of the city’s university – the figure was just 13 per cent.

Overall, the proportion of successful Scottish candidates at 10 out of 17 universities north of the border is 53 per cent or lower.

The Scottish government is committed to providing free tuition for Scottish students and EU nationals. However, Iain Gray, Labour’s education spokesman, said the resulting unofficial cap on places should be relaxed.

“We need to give our people the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future, but we can’t do that if they are repeatedly locked out of higher education,” he said. “The issue is that because Scottish students’ fees are funded, the Scottish government caps numbers. If we are serious about increasing opportunity and widening access, that cap has to be relaxed. In fact, the SNP has cut funding for university teaching year-on-year.”

The offer rate – the proportion of applicants offered a place – for Scottish students from universities north of the border has fallen from 57 per cent in 2010 to 50 per cent in 2015.

In contrast, the offer rate for international students from outside the EU in 2015 was 63 per cent, with the rate for applicants from England, Wales and Northern Ireland ranging between 56 and 58 per cent. In 2015, 19 per cent of Scots applying to university did not receive any offers from a Scottish university, up from 15 per cent in 2010.

Audit Scotland has now recommended the government and the 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”.

A Universities Scotland spokesman said: “We would welcome more Scottish students on the proviso that the places are fully funded to ensure teaching quality and educational experience are at a level consummate with the sector’s world-class reputation. Ultimately, the decision for the number of places for Scottish and EU students are set by the Scottish government.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman cited the highest ever entry rate for students from Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas, adding that ministers were committed to widening access and to free tuition.


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