Official figures suggest that the SNP’s free tuition policy is backfiring on Scottish youngsters competing for a place at some of the most prestigious universities by attracting more students from the Continent.
Scottish students are losing out on places at some of the country’s most eminent universities to youngsters from the Continent attracted by the SNP’s promise of a ‘free’ degree, new figures have suggested.
Official statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act found the number of Scots accepted at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee universities has fallen over the past two years.
But over the same period the number of applicants from other EU countries given a place has increased, with one academic saying Scottish teenagers are being forced to go head-to-head with the “crème de la crème” from Europe.
Although SNP ministers abolished tuition fees for Scottish-resident students, this benefit also had to be extended to youngsters from the Continent as it is illegal to discriminate against people from another EU state.
Controversially, English, Welsh and Northern Irish students have to pay fees of up to £9,000 per year because EU law does not prevent different charges being applied within the UK.
The Scottish Government has claimed it is “protecting” the number of Scots at universities by funding a capped number of free tuition places for youngsters living north of the Border.
However, this quota also includes teenagers from other EU countries, meaning the more children from the Continent are accepted, the fewer places are left for Scots.
Although SNP minsters recently boasted that record numbers of Scots are being given places, the FOI figures suggest a greater number are being forced to settle for less prestigious universities.
Robert Wright, a Strathclyde University professor of economics who works on demographics, told the Sunday Times that fewer Scottish students will attend the best universities north of the Border unless the entry bar is lowered.
His research has found that EU students made up 4.5 per cent of the Scottish university population in 2002/03 but this had almost doubled to 8.7 per cent by 2012/13, higher than other parts of the UK.
The FOI figures showed the proportion of Scottish undergraduates at Glasgow University fell from 72 per cent (11,268) in 2011/12 to 63 per cent in 2013/14 (10,656).
Over the same period the proportion of EU students increased by three percentage points to 14.4 per cent, from 1,805 to 2,437.
At Edinburgh University, the proportion of Scots fell by four percentage points to 40.5 per cent, from 8,309 in 2011/12 to 8,014 in 2014/15, while the number of EU students rose from 8.6 per cent (1,602) to 10.3 per cent (2,028) over the same period.
The percentage of Scots at Dundee fell from 79.4 per cent (7,855) in 2009/10 to 71.2 per cent (6,518) in 2014/15, while the total for the EU spiked from 4.6 per cent (460) to 8.7 per cent (792).
Although the percentage of Scots at Aberdeen increased by one percentage point to 59 per cent between 2011/12 and 2014/15, their actual number fell from 7,194 to 6,086. Meanwhile the proportion of EU students increased from 16 per cent (2,013) to 21 per cent (2,199).
The number of Scottish and EU students both increased at St Andrews University. The Scottish Government said more “funded” places for Scottish and EU students have been provided this year.
Glasgow University said the number of places it can offer Scottish and EU students is capped and it is forbidden from discriminating between them.
Edinburgh and Dundee universities said they welcomed talented students from around the world, “regardless of where they are from”, while Aberdeen said its proportion of Scottish students had remained at 59 per cent for the last three years.