Call to end cap on Scots student numbers

University leaders have backed calls for an end to the 'cap' on the number of Scots youngsters going to university '“ but warned it must be backed up by resources to achieve this.

Scotland faces shortfalls in certain sectors. Picture: John Devlin
Scotland faces shortfalls in certain sectors. Picture: John Devlin

Universities are keen to allow in more qualified youngsters to study subjects such as medicine, Aberdeen University vice-principal Professor Ian Diamond told MSPs, as Scotland faces a shortfall of GPs. But he said the cap is stopping them from doing this.

Holyrood’s education committee was also told that more funding is needed to reach the flagship 2030 target of ensuring students from the most deprived areas make up 20 per cent of Scottish university populations.

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Prof Diamond told MSPs that Aberdeen is being forced to reject “well-qualified Scottish students” because of the cap on places.

He said of rejecting potential students: “One of the most difficult things that I ever do is when MSPs – and some of you may have written to me in the past with cases of your constituents who have unbelievable good Higher qualifications and would like to be a doctor and they are one or two percentage points below a line, even after the contextual admissions that we give.

“Aberdeen had a fantastic record in training doctors and training doctors who subsequently worked in Scotland. We would love to be able to increase our numbers.”

Asked by Conservative MSP Liz Smith if the current cap on Scots students should be lifted, he added: “I’ve personally have said for many years that I believe in the ‘Robbins Principle’ from the 1960s that everyone who has the ability to go to university and wishes so to do should be able to do so.”

The cap on Scottish students going to university north of the Border is in place as a result of the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensure free tuition for those who attend. Numbers must be restricted or the commitment would become unaffordable. No such cap applies south of the Border, where UK students pay fees of £9,000 a year.

Alastair Sim of Universities Scotland said a lifting of the cap would need to be accompanied by extra cash.

He said: “If there were a political choice to remove the cap it would also be a political choice that the funding for each student in an expanding system should be sufficient to enable us not just to teach them but support them with everything we need to enable them to graduate successfully.”

The Scottish Government wants to ensure 20 per cent of university populations in Scotland are made up from students who come from the country’s most deprived areas by 2030.

But Mr Sim said: “To achieve that, it’s reasonable to look for growth in the number of funded places so that we can be fair to everybody.”

There are growing concerns that students from middle-income families are being squeezed out of the system, as part of the drive to attract more youngsters from poorer backgrounds. Those from more affluent backgrounds haven’t been affected.