The number of Scots beginning a full-time first degree course has risen by 12 per cent in the last decade, new figures have revealed.
Latest figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency found the number of Scots studying at Scottish higher education institutions increased by three per cent in a year to nearly 160,000, including a five per cent increase in postgraduate students.
Universities and colleges in Scotland have also seen a nine per cent rise in students from non-EU countries since 2013/14 - compared to a 12 per cent drop in Northern Ireland and a 25 per cent reduction in Wales.
The report also highlighted that an extra 1,335 students enrolled in courses to study education – the largest percentage increase of all subject areas and contrasting with a decline of three per cent across the whole of the UK.
Science-based subjects also saw a three per cent rise in student numbers, while the number of students taking a computer science course in Scotland rose by nine per cent compared to 2015-16.
The Scottish Government has faced criticism for its education record, with opponents noting a fall of about 4,000 teachers in Scotland’s schools since the party came to power in 2007.
A lack of suitable STEM-qualified candidates has also led to teacher shortages in some parts of the country.
In October, education secretary John Swinney announced that Scots workers would be offered £20,000 deals to change career and retrain as teachers in key technical subjects such as maths and science in a bid to address the problem.
Further education Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “More people than ever before are coming to study at Scottish universities, including students resident here whose numbers have increased by three per cent. It is a clear demonstration of the strength of Scotland’s reputation as a fantastic place to live, study, and work.
“In particular, these latest statistics show welcome signs that the study of education and science-based qualifications at university is increasing in popularity among students. It is one of our key priorities to encourage more people to enter these areas of the workforce, so it is good to see more students starting on this career path.”
Liz Smith, Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary, said: “There are some encouraging signs here within tertiary education but the priority must be to tackle the decrease in students taking STEM subjects at school and the lack of STEM teachers at school level.
“The Scottish Government must urgently address these shortages in order to ensure that as many Scottish children as possible have the choice of careers that build on STEM subjects.”