The number of people from other parts of the UK applying to Scottish universities has increased compared with last year, despite the hike in tuition fees for those from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Figures released yesterday revealed that there were 14.7 per cent more applications from England.
The same pattern was observed when it came to Northern Irish students, whose applications have increased by 17.3 per cent.
According to the figures, which were issued by the admissions body Ucas, the number of people applying from Scotland has risen by two per cent to almost 40,000.
Total applications to Scottish universities to start courses this autumn, including from EU and non-EU countries, increased to 103,219, a rise of 7.1 per cent, although applications from Wales fell 4.1 per cent. The overall number of people in the UK applying to university is up almost three per cent on last year, to 475,587.
Despite the rise, applicant numbers have not recovered to the levels of 2011, the year before the Scottish Government tripled fees for students from the rest of the UK to a maximum of £9,000 a year. Compared with 2011, applications are down 6.1 per cent.
Under Scottish Government policy, people in Scotland or students from the EU outside the UK who take up a course north of the Border do not have to pay tuition fees.
Students from the rest of the UK and non-EU students face fees of up to £9,000 per year. That means the cost of a four-year degree in Scotland could be £36,000. In England, where degrees are generally studied over three years, students usually pay no more than £27,000.
An analysis of the figures also revealed that 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland are 80 per cent more likely to apply than they were in 2004, a trend that was welcomed by education secretary Mike Russell. He said: “It is good news that a record number of people living in Scotland have applied to university and that our universities continue to be a coveted choice around the globe.
“I am particularly pleased to see more school-leavers from deprived areas applying.”
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “Ucas figures show that the offer of a quality higher education from Scotland’s universities continues to be seen as an attractive and sound investment from students across the UK and internationally.
“As Scotland’s universities look to deliver on their collective commitment to widening access, we are pleased to see an increase in home applicants. We are also pleased to see students from the rest of the UK vote with their feet to apply to Scottish institutions, which have some of the best bursary and support schemes in the UK to help with the cost of study.”
The number of students applying to Scottish universities from parts of the EU other than the UK rose by 5.1 per cent to 17,768 in the past year.
That figure led opposition politicians – who believe in the principle of students paying for their education through tuition fees – to question how the influx of students entitled to study in Scotland for free can be afforded.
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “There are financial implications associated with the rising number of EU applications, particularly given that the cost of their tuition is borne by the Scottish taxpayer. As ever, the Scottish Government needs to explain where the money is coming from.”