This week, UCAS released figures showing an increase in university applications in Scotland. This is in welcome contrast to the record crash in application numbers seen south of the Border.
The huge effect in England that tripling tuition fees is having on entry to education was entirely predictable. Where fees go up, applications suffer. The Westminster government needs to take a hard look at the healthy numbers of Scottish students applying to university, and learn the lesson.
That is not to say that Scotland has it entirely right – far from it.
In Scotland, students from the rest of the UK continue to pay up to £9,000 a year to earn a degree. The UCAS figures showed that an increased number of these students have been accepted by Scottish universities, despite the number of students applying from the rest of the UK falling.
Having students from around the UK, and indeed around the world, is good for our universities and good for our students. Unfortunately, there are real concerns that this is a case of universities simply cashing in on students from the rest of the UK. Unlike in England, there are no protections whatsoever in Scotland that require some of these fees to be spent on protecting access through bursaries.
We need to see the Scottish Government’s Post-16 Bill address the high amount and transparency of these fees, and to ensure some of the money is spent on bursaries for students from the rest of the UK.
In terms of Scottish students, there remain too few at Scottish universities from deprived backgrounds.
We are not saying that universities can do it all, but they can do more. Universities need to set ambitious local plans to increase the number of students from deprived communities. The Scottish Government’s proposed legislation must be strong enough to ensure universities deliver on these ambitions.
There are more students than ever before studying at Scottish universities. Now we all must ask the question of who these students are, and make sure they are a fair representation of Scottish society.
• Robin Parker is president of the NUS Scotland.