Figures from Ucas show the total number of university applications from Scotland is down by 1.5%, the lowest figure of any part of the UK. The number of Scottish students hoping to study in Scotland is down by just 1.1%. Ministers and student leaders say the statistics are an endorsement of the Scottish government’s stance on student funding.
English applications to Scottish universities are down by 5.6%, and applications from Northern Ireland are down by 15.1% on the previous year. Students from both face fees of up to £9,000 if they choose to study in Scotland.
Applications from Wales, where the Welsh Assembly subsidizes fees for its students wherever they study in the UK, are up by 1.6%. The number of EU applicants to Scottish institutions has risen by 6% and applications from other international students are up by almost a quarter.
Universities Scotland said the fall in the number of English applicants should not be overstated.
“What’s really interesting from today’s figures is that whilst the overall number of English applicants is down, Scotland’s share of those applicants has actually held steady and is the same as last year,” said the director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim. “Universities in England have seen a sharper drop in English applicants than Scottish universities. We’re pleased that students across the UK and overseas continue to recognize the high quality of education on offer in Scotland.”
Robin Parker, the president of NUS Scotland, said the drop in the number of students from England and Northern Ireland indicated that some universities in Scotland had “made a huge mistake in overpricing themselves, missing out on the opportunity to attract talented students to Scotland”.
But Parker said the overall figures were a ringing endorsement of the Scottish government’s decision to keep Scotland free of tuition fees.
“Scottish applications have held up well, particularly when compared to the rest of the UK. With applications in England showing a drop of almost 10%, its clear £9,000 fees are putting huge numbers of students off, and cutting off opportunities for people to study, re-skill and get the education that gets them a job.”
St Andrews University had one of the biggest increases in applicants, up 17% on the previous year, and thought to be attributable, in part, to an increased international profile that was boosted by the royal wedding in April 2011.
Applications to St Andrews from the EU are up 35%, and from other international students up 22%. Applications from Walesrose 10%, but from England were down 3% and the number of applicants from Northern Ireland dropped by 15%.
Overall, almost 14,000 prospective students applied to the University for a Place in 2012, the equivalent of 10 applications for every available place. It is the largest number of applications ever received by St Andrews.
Stephen Magee, the university’s vice-principal for external relations, said: “We are pleased that applications to St Andrews have again grown, particularly when the sector as a whole has seen a drop in applications and the funding of higher education is more challenged than ever, for students as well as institutions.”
He added: “What will be far more important than application figures, however, are the numbers of young people who actually decide to take up the offer of a place at university, given the considerable pressures facing families at present.”
Marco Biagi, the SNP member of the Scottish parliament’s education and culture committee, said the figures for Scottish institutions were a clear vindication of the SNP’s determination to ensure university education remained free for Scottish students.
“This is obviously very good news for our university sector, which is being protected from falling student numbers in contrast to their English and Welsh counterparts. More importantly, young people in Scotland can still apply to study at a Scottish university in the confidence that it is only their ability to learn and not their ability to pay that matters.”
The Scottish Conservatives, however, said they had warned that charging high fees to student’s from elsewhere in the UK to study in Scotland while Scottish and EU students paid nothing would lead to a fall in numbers.
“These figures lay bare the true extent of the inherent inequalities of the SNP’s policy on fees,” said Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman. “A huge increase in students from the European Union has seen a coinciding fall in the number of students applying from the rest of the UK. At a time when budgets are tight, the Scottish government is duty bound to explain to taxpayers why they are being asked to foot the bill for the tuition fees of foreign nationals.”