Alastair Sim: Scots won’t miss out in scramble for university places

UNIVERSITIES have a very real concern that the current, highly political, debate about admissions in the clearing process may be giving a false impression to Scottish learners that their opportunities have been diminished.

Let’s be clear. Scots are not fighting for fewer places at Scottish universities. In fact, three per cent more Scots have taken up a place at a Scottish university this year, compared with last – and there are additional funded places available in science and technology subjects and at the new University of the Highlands and Islands. 

Second, university places that are ring-fenced for Scottish and EU students cannot go to anyone else except to Scottish and EU students.

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This ring-fencing of places for Scots is so strict that there is no getting around, under or over it. Of course, students from the rest of the UK are very welcome in Scotland, but no university is able to take in a fee-paying student from elsewhere over a “free” Scot.

Also, let’s remember that clearing opened more than a week earlier for Scottish students, giving them the first opportunity to find the right place.

Hundreds of Scots have already taken up places through clearing. Just as last year, once the dust settles, the vast majority of well-qualified Scots who want a place at university will get one.

It’s true that the system of university places has changed this year; it had to, in response to changes at universities south of the Border. But the changes in Scotland were driven by the objective to protect places for Scots at Scottish universities.

Failure to change the system would have seen thousands more applicants from England, Wales and Northern Ireland flooding university admissions in Scotland, looking to escape fees of £9,000 and competing directly against Scots for a limited number of free places. The sheer volume of “fee refugees”, as they would have been called, would have inevitably forced out some Scots.

Robust debate is a good thing. But if any Scottish learner is put off from seeking the opportunities offered by a university education, we will have served them badly.

• Alastair Sim is director of Universities Scotland.