By Eddie Barnes
Scotland’s newest university has revealed it has nearly 1,000 places still unfilled as students across the country this week prepare for a last-minute scramble to find a course in tertiary education. The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) was given extra cash late last year to fund extra courses after being granted its charter.
It has now emerged that hundreds of its courses, which are being run in locations such as Perth, Inverness, Oban and Elgin, are significantly under-subscribed.
With most other universities in Scotland offering few last-minute places, the UHI is to embark on a recruitment drive to hunt down school-leavers who have not yet managed to get a place.
Scottish secondary pupils will get their examination results, allowing them to decide whether or not they intend to continue in formal education and where they might find a place.
The UHI’s unprecedented offer to students comes amid warnings that thousands of pupils who choose to leave school this month face an uphill task to find work, with more than 100,000 young people already unemployed.
In addition, a Citizens Advice Bureau survey recently found that 56 per cent of recent graduates said they had been unemployed for a period after earning their degrees, 20 per cent of them for more than a year.
Ministers are urging students to remain in education and boost their skills amid evidence that even a short spell in unemployment can have long-term consequences for future job prospects.
The UHI offer is a “one-off” this year, following the decision to give it extra places to mark its rise in status and stands in stark contrast with the situation elsewhere in Scotland. Leading universities such as St Andrews and Edinburgh never have any courses available through “clearing”.
Glasgow University said it had just 11 places on offer in clearing last week at its Dumfries campus. However, other institutions, such as Glasgow Caledonian University and Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, are also warning they have few if any places on course available in the forthcoming term.
A spokesman for Glasgow Caledonian University said: “We would expect to have a small number of vacancies for some programmes in clearing this year.”
A spokesman for Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen said: “We are not expecting any Scottish clearing vacancies to be available.”
University sources warn that the demand for courses in institutions such as Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh is so intense that students who only just miss out on their grades may have to be turned away. UHI, however, is set to launch a campaign this week in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling and Aberdeen in the hope of scooping up as many last-minute students as possible. The new university is a network of 13 colleges that stretch from the Western Isles to Perth. A spokeswoman said the extra monies this year from the Scottish Funding Council were intended to give it the capacity to grow.
She said: “It means that we have significant additional places for this year and we still have a number of places available.”
The university is to launch a television and radio advertising campaign this week as it seeks to fill the extra places, and will even take to Scotland’s high streets to pull young people in.
Courses on offer include archaeology at the Orkney campus, aircraft engineering and music at Perth College, marine science in Oban and tourism in Fort William. Courses are also available in Shetland and Elgin.
The Scottish tertiary education sector has largely avoided the slump in applications witnessed south of the Border where the imminent introduction of £9,000-a-year tuition fees has seen a 10 per cent drop. In contrast, the number of Scottish students applying to go to university fell by just 1.7 per cent. Once European Union and other foreign students are counted in, applications in Scotland actually rose by 0.1 per cent.
The steady stream of pupils wanting to go on to tertiary education means that competition for places in leading Scottish universities remains as fierce as ever.
Universities Scotland’s deputy director Simon Jennings said: “A number of universities have limited places on some courses but many will not be entering clearing at all.
“The advice is to look on university websites and contact universities directly from Tuesday.
“Students should not be worried ahead of getting their results, as the vast majority of well-qualified applicants will get a place.” (Scotland on Sunday)