Quarter more university students than 10 years ago

THE number of people going to university has risen by nearly a quarter in Scotland over the past decade, according to new statistics.

In 1999, there were 24,943 Scots who had been accepted on to a university place, compared to 31,030 last year.

The figure for the whole of the UK represented a 44 per cent rise, according to the universities admissions body, UCAS.

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In 1999 there were 334,594 accepted applicants across the UK, compared to 481,854 last year .

That represents a 5.5 per cent increase on 2008 in a year that saw record applications – a phenomenon attributed to a recession jobs shortage.

The lower figure north of the Border is due to Scotland having had a higher proportion of the population in higher education a decade ago than England. That disparity led former Prime Minister Tony Blair into creating a target of 50 per cent participation in England, accompanied by a structured and funded expansion, absent north of the Border.

Only some subjects, such as medicine, dentistry and teaching, have been expanded in Scotland in that time.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said it was a case of England catching up with Scotland.

She said: "We obviously appreciate public finances are extremely tight right now.

"However there is no cost involved in MSPs from all parties acknowledging that for the last ten years Scotland has largely stood still when it comes to numbers entering higher education (in comparison to England].

"It's not that Scotland is getting worse, it's just that everyone else, in England and across the world, is getting better."

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Claire Baker, Labour higher education spokeswoman, said the figures showed efforts to increase participation in higher education had been successful.

However, she added: "Nevertheless, there is always more that can be done to widen access so that people from all backgrounds have the ability to realise their potential through higher education."

And she questioned whether the SNP government would be able to financially sustain further growth in higher education.

She said: "I would urge the SNP government to ensure that Scottish universities continue, particularly in this economic situation, to receive funding that allows them to offer the highest quality education for students."

She spoke as it emerged a graduate recruitment scheme that helped thousands into work is to be scrapped.

Scottish Enterprise will ditch Graduates for Business in a bid to save 1 million over three years after paying out 4.7m in redundancy last year. The scheme, which had arranged around 250 flexible internships of between three months and a year, is being withdrawn from March.

Two-thirds of those taking part had gone on to find permanent employment with the firm they had been placed with.

Universities Scotland said: "It seems a real shame to have ended the scheme when there is demand for this from both graduates on one side and employers on the other."