Admissions body Ucas said that in the 2012 cycle, 15.3 per cent of those from south of the Border who applied to a Scottish university were accepted, up from 11.8 per cent the previous year, despite a fall in the number of applications.
The acceptance rate is at its highest level since 2004, raising concern that fee-paying English students may be offered lower entry grades than their Scottish counterparts to get numbers up.
The proportion of Scots being accepted also increased, but at a smaller rate, up 2.8 per cent to 65.5 per cent. However, that figure remained five points below the 71 to 74 per cent range recorded in the years before 2010.
Last year was the first that Scottish universities were able to charge higher-rate fees to students from elsewhere in the UK, with institutions including Edinburgh and St Andrews opting to charge the maximum of £9,000 a year.
Overall, English students made up 9.6 per cent of the total accepted to Scottish universities, a 21 per cent increase on 2011.
Figures released yesterday showed a 6 per cent rise in the number of English students being accepted to Scottish institutions this year. While the number of Scottish students is capped, there are no limits on the number of fee-paying students from the rest of the UK.
Asked if the new system could lead to two-tier entry requirements, Professor David Raffe, of the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University, said: “That situation is now more likely than it was in the past. There’s always been a degree of ambiguity, mainly because English and Scottish students are sitting different qualifications in Highers and A-levels, but that has tended to favour Scottish rather than English students in the past. There’s a risk that this pressure might encourage universities in the other direction.”
Lucy Hunter, a freelance analyst and former head of higher education, science and student support for the Scottish Government, said: “When you see a big number like that you have to ask questions about where it’s come from. It’s important that the government and the funding bodies are watching this and asking, what’s happening?”
Gordon Maloney, president of the National Union of Students in Scotland, said: “We wouldn’t want to see students from the rest of the UK being taken by Scottish universities simply because of the £9,000 price tag attached to them. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the system to ensure all students are being treated fairly, on the basis of their potential, not bank balance.”
Figures released yesterday by Ucas show 4,020 English students have already been accepted to Scottish universities for 2013 entry, up from 3,810 at the same point last year. The number of Scots who have won a place is up 2 per cent from 25,420 to 26,010, while the number of students accepted from Northern Ireland has increased 21 per cent to 1,010. The total of students accepted from Wales has fallen by 5 per cent.
Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “The significant increase in English-based and rUK [rest of UK] students accepting a place at Scottish universities makes it very clear that charging fees does not put off students from applying to top quality institutions.”
She added: “It is entirely wrong that as well as a student’s academic merits, a university has to also consider whether or not they will be paying fees.”
But Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “Five times as many students from the rest of the UK apply to Scotland than get a place at university here. This allows universities to assure themselves they are recruiting only the brightest and the best from around the UK. ”
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “We now have a record number of Scots being accepted into Scottish universities, with extra places that we are funding helping more young Scots meet their ambitions of going to university. Scottish students get a good deal, with access based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.”
No graduation over tiny debts
ONE of Scotland’s oldest universities has been accused of chasing students for debts of as little as £3.62, putting them at risk of not graduating or continuing their studies.
Glasgow University’s Student Representative Council said the institution had “secretly” changed a policy which had allowed students owing less than £250 to re-enrol for their courses. The student body said almost 2,000 undergraduates were at risk of not graduating.
A university spokesman said: “It is important that debts are settled to enable the university to offer the same, fair consistent treatment to all students.”