The number of young Scots studying clinical medicine at university north of the Border has dropped to a ten year-low, official figures indicate.
Ministers insist numbers are on the rise with the proportion of Scots in the first year of medical degrees slightly up. Action is also being taken to attract Scottish based students to study.
But it has prompted fresh concerns about the apparent reliance on fee-paying international students to fund universities in Scotland, leaving many home youngsters frozen out. Scottish students account for barely half of the clinical medical cohort in universities.
The issue is particularly acute in medicine with the NHS north of the border facing a shortage of GPs and specialists.
A total of 2,160 Scottish-domiciled students were enrolled across all years in clinical medicine courses, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Aberdeen last year, according to figures provided by Education Secretary John Swinney.
That compares to 2,210 in 2015/16, and is significantly lower than the 2,350 who enrolled in 2013/14. As far back as 2007/08, there were 2,225 successful applicants.
Across both pre-clinical and clinical medicine there were 3,260 enrolments in 2016/17, which is down on 3,490 from a decade earlier.
Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs claimed the statistics, obtained through Parliamentary answers, are “big concern.”
Mr Briggs said: “If the SNP had maintained levels since coming to power, hundreds more young Scottish people would have had the opportunity to study medicine.
“This would have gone some way to solving the GP crisis we are currently facing across the country, not to mention some specific shortages in other areas.
“Everyone recognises that Scottish medical students are more likely to stay and work in the NHS when they qualify than students from other parts of the UK, and indeed abroad. But, thanks to this SNP government, too many bright young Scots who want to study medicine are being pushed out and that’s something that needs to be addressed urgently.”
Scottish domiciled students do not pay fees if they attend a domestic university under the SNP’s free tuition policy, but students from the rest of the UK are charges £9,000 a year, while international students can pay up to £50,000 for a more expensive course like medicine.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the number of Scottish domiciled students entering first year medicine is on the rise – from 480 in 2014-15 to 515 in 2016-17. Other EU students don’t pay.
They now account for 54 per cent of all new entrants in first years courses, up from 52 per cent in 2014-15 and 53 per cent in 2015-16.
He added: “Between 2015 and 2021, medical places in Scottish universities will have increased by 22 per cent - to a record high of 1,038 - while we continue to take action to attract more Scottish students to study medicine.”