Scottish students are unfairly disadvantaged from getting into Scottish unis, charity says

The number of Scottish students rejected from Scottish unis has doubled in the past 15 years

As Scottish Highers results are released tomorrow, a new report argues Scottish students are being unfairly disadvantaged from gaining places at Scottish unis.

Think tank and charity, Reform Scotland, says the number of Scottish students rejected from Scottish unis has doubled in the past 15 years.

Tuition fees have been free for Scottish students studying in Scotland since 2008. The funding for this instead comes from the Scottish government who allocate the amount for universities each year.

The think tank argues this has effectively created a cap on places for Scottish students as it says universities can only accept as many Scottish students as the funding will allow for.

As students from the rest of the UK and international students pay their own fees, it says these students do not experience the same cap. The think tank has warned of Scottish universities’ financial reliance on international students.

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee’s report on universities, published last year, found that the “unofficial cap” led to only 55 per cent of applications by Scottish students being offered a place at a Scottish uni in 2020. In the same time period, 74 per cent of students in England applying to study at Scottish universities were offered a place.

Recent figures from UCAS however show this “cap” on Scottish students doesn’t appear to exist across the board. Between 2019 and 2021, Glasgow University increased its number of Scottish students by 23 per cent from 3,365 to 4,130.

Edinburgh University increased its proportion of Scottish residents by an even higher margin of 32 per cent from 2,115 students to 2,795.

Both universities are part of the Russell Group and are estimated to have significantly higher cash reserves than other Scottish universities. Edinburgh University has £2.5 billion in reserves whilst Glasgow has £1 billion. Their reputation as two of Scotland’s best universities helps attract more fee-paying students from the rest of the UK and international students, which helps to fund places for Scottish students.

Universities Scotland, an organisation that represents all 19 Scottish universities, believe Scottish student numbers will decline in the future. A spokesperson for the organisation described there being “long-term structural issues” which mean Scottish unis are increasingly reliant on foreign funding to help subsidise Scottish students.

“There is abundant evidence that, following a decade of cuts by Scottish government, universities face a significant financial loss from providing tuition to Scottish students,” they said.

In their report, titled Scrap The Cap, Reform Scotland suggests Scottish graduates who earn more than the average Scottish salary should pay back a proportion of their tuition fees.

Edinburgh University professor and member of Reform Scotland, Lindsay Patterson, describes this as a “no win, no fee university education”.

“We need to scrap this unfair cap,” she said. “The proceeds from the repaid fees would free up money to provide bursaries for entrants to university from low-income families.”

“This change is not only inevitable, it is also right.”

Alison Payne, Reform Scotland’s research director, said: The funding arrangement may seem like it benefits Scots as there are no direct fees to pay to attend university, but it has also created an artificial cap on the number of Scottish students that can study in Scotland. Our young people’s ambition is being stifled by how we fund higher education.”

Free tuition fees for Scottish students was introduced under former First Minister Alex Salmond. Whilst he admitted the government needs to “increase education investment and scrap  any suggested cap on numbers”, he said: “The last thing to do is to make Scottish youngsters pay through the nose for their right to learn.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government remains committed to free higher education for Scotland-domiciled students and access to university being based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

“Our continued commitment to free tuition ensures that eligible Scottish domiciled students studying in Scotland do not incur up to £27,750 of additional student loan debt and produces the lowest student debt levels in the UK.”

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Featured image credit before edits via tommao wang and MD Duran on Unsplash