ALMOST a third of 18-year-old Scots have applied for a place at university this autumn – the highest figure recorded.
A report published today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) shows 31.6 per cent of 18-year-olds hope to enter higher education later this year, a rise of 0.3 percentage points on 2012.
According to Ucas, demand for a university place is at, or near, record levels across the UK, despite the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9,000 last year.
In England, the proportion of 18-year-olds applying has increased by nearly one percentage point to 35.1 per cent, while the application rate in Northern Ireland rose by 1.6 points to 48.3 per cent. Only Wales saw a slight reduction, down 0.2 percentage points to 29.9 per cent.
Across the UK as a whole, applications seem to be returning to their normal pattern after uncertainty caused by the introduction of higher-rate fees in 2012.
The Ucas report, which analyses more than 20 million applications, tracking patterns of demand for higher education between 2004 and 2013, notes the average English applicant applies to a course where the fee is £8,604, just short of the £9,000 maximum.
While Scots studying in their home country are exempt from fees, figures released earlier this month showed there had been a 14 per cent rise in applications from elsewhere in the UK, despite students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales being liable for fees.
Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: “Young application rates for higher education are rising again after falls in 2012 and the gap between rich and poor is closing as disadvantaged groups are applying at record levels.”
While the figures show Scotland’s universities in a positive light, they do not include demand for courses at Scotland’s colleges, typically about a third of overall demand.
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “These figures continue to follow the trend for excellence that we have seen over the past weeks, demonstrating that Scotland’s universities offer a quality of education and valuable learning experience that is a benchmark for all higher education institutions to aspire to.”
Gordon Maloney, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland, added: “It’s great to see application rates at their highest recorded level – evidence that free education is continuing to work.
“It’s great applications continue to increase, but to ensure we see progress on fair access, universities must convert as many applications from talented people from our poorest communities into places as possible.”
The Ucas report notes that while applications from Scots to home universities has remained strong, the proportion applying to institutions elsewhere in the UK has traditionally been low, at about 3.5 per cent. With the increase in tuition fees in 2012, that application rate fell to 2.8 per cent, but has since recovered slightly to 3 per cent.
Commenting on the report, education secretary Mike Russell said: “These figures show continuing confidence in Scottish universities which have rightly earned an excellent reputation.
“We will continue to do all we can across Scotland to deliver a system of post-16 education that meets the needs of students, adapts to the challenges of the future and provides the graduates needed to improve our economy.”