English students cash boost for Scots universities

36,120 applicants have been accepted to Scottish institutions, up nearly 3 per cent on the same point last year. Picture: Jane Barlow
36,120 applicants have been accepted to Scottish institutions, up nearly 3 per cent on the same point last year. Picture: Jane Barlow
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SCOTLAND’S universities are set to receive a financial boost from growing numbers of fee-paying students from England after figures showed acceptances are at a record high.

Statistics released yesterday on A-level results day revealed 36,120 applicants have been accepted to Scottish institutions, up nearly 3 per cent on the same point last year. A record number of Scots students (25,550) have won a place, while the number of English students, who pay fees of up to £9,000 a year, is up 6 per cent on last year to 3,670 – its highest level since 2009 and potentially worth more than £30m a year to Scottish universities.

The number of EU students (those from outside the UK) fell by 6 per cent to 3,680, while the number of foreign students from outside the EU was up marginally to 2,190. Despite previous claims Scots have been frozen out of clearing – the process which helps applicants secure a university spot after failing to win a place on their first-choice course – 2,780 extra Scottish students have found a place since Higher results day last week.

Minister for youth employment Angela Constance said: “Once again these figures show an increase in the number of Scots accepted to our universities. Two per cent more Scots have gained places than at the same point last year and 2,780 more Scots have been accepted since Higher results day.

“Scottish students get a good deal, with access based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay and the best package of students support in the UK. I am pleased to see the extra places that we are funding are helping more young Scots meet their ambitions of going to university.

“These figures are good news for our young people, our universities and our economy.

“I’d strongly encourage any young Scots who have still to decide on their next steps to phone the exam results helpline to discuss their options and our guarantee of a place in education or training for every 16 to 19-year-old.”

However, there were warnings over the Scottish funding system, which caps the number of Scottish and EU students, but not the number of fee-paying students from the rest of the UK.

Lucy Hunter, a freelance analyst and a former head of higher education, science and student support for the Scottish Government, said: “We need to watch this new system as it comes in, so that what doesn’t happen is that we take a lot of students who are significantly less qualified than the Scots who are being turned away.

“I think it’s too early to tell whether that’s happening, but it depends on how universities use this new freedom they have been given. How is the Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council monitoring that?”

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith added: “The significant rise in the number of students from the rest of the UK accepting a place at Scottish institutions makes it clear that they remain a very attractive intake, not least because they and international students are fee paying.

“The rise is considerably more than the increase in the number of Scottish students accepting places.

“The unfair system of who pays fees and who doesn’t has led to further discrimination within the capping of Scottish students, and there is deep-seated concern within universities about future funding.

“It is entirely wrong that there is additional pressure on universities to decide their intake by where the student comes from, as well as by their academic merits.”

As of midnight, 25,550 Scots had won a place at a Scottish university, along with 3,670 students from England, 940 from Northern Ireland and 90 from Wales, according to figures from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas).

Across the UK, 385,910 applicants have been accepted by UK universities and colleges – 31,600 more than at the same point last year, a rise of 9 per cent.

Free tuition north of the Border for Scots and EU students means their places are capped. While there are no limits on the number of rest of UK (RUK) students Scottish universities can recruit, those students cannot take places allocated for Scots.

Despite this, there are concerns the system could lead to a situation where students from elsewhere in the UK are accepted with poorer grades than their Scottish counterparts.

The current legislation also prevents a Scottish student, or their family, paying for a place on a course where there are still places open to English, Northern Irish and Welsh students.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said: “Recruiting students from the rest of the UK and from beyond the EU has no impact whatsoever on the availability of places for Scottish students at university in Scotland.

“Places for Scots are protected and cannot, under any circumstances, be taken by anyone paying fees. With Scottish students still working their way through clearing it is important to be unequivocal on that point.”

Gordon Maloney, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland, said: “The latest figures out from Ucas are really good news for students.

“Following NUS Scotland campaigning, and the creation of additional places at Scottish universities, a record number of Scottish students have secured a place at university. Even better news is that the number of students getting a place continues to grow through clearing.

“Yesterday’s figures were published as concerns emerged over a fall in the number of top grades being achieved at A-level.

In total, 26.3 per cent of entries scored an A or A*, down from 26.6 per cent last year – a drop of 0.3 per cent. It is believed to be the second biggest fall in the history of A-levels, and comes the year after the A*-A pass rate fell for the first time in more than 20 years.

The overall A*-E pass rate rose slightly by 0.1 per cent. Some 98.1 per cent of exams achieved at least an E, compared with 98 per cent last year.

The results come a week after Scotland’s Higher pass rate rose from 76.9 per cent last year to 77.4 per cent, with the proportion of students passing Standard Grades, Intermediates and Advanced Highers also on the rise.

Only a small proportion of pupils in Scotland sit A-levels, mainly in private schools.