Drop in UK student numbers causes Scottish funding gap

New data collated by The Herald has shown that the number of students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland coming to study at Scottish universities has fallen by five hundred since the 2011-2012 academic year.

With fees for students from the rest of the UK (rUK) currently at an average of around £7,500, the 2.6 per cent decrease means universities have lost £3.75m in income. Twelve out of the country’s eighteen higher education institutions have seen a reduction in rUK students.

Whilst there has been an increase in rUK students studying at the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, the figures show that many universities have seen rUK numbers fall, including St Andrews, Aberdeen and Strathclyde.

Scottish universities introduced fees of up to £9,000 a year for rUK students’ in 2012, due to changes in UK Government policy which raised fees in England and Wales, to avoid being viewed as a cheaper alternative. It was believed by the Scottish Government that this would facilitate an increase of income for Scottish universities.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said: “There was an expectation that student numbers would suffer a little as an immediate after effect of such a change to the UK system as the introduction of £9,000 fees and the same is true for universities across the UK with student numbers initially taking a while to recover.

“Overall, there is still a good level of demand for a Scottish higher education from across the UK and the number of rUK applicants accepted into Scottish institutions increased last year on the year before.”

Beth, a second-year Geography student at the University of Edinburgh, said: “I wasn’t put off studying in Scotland, because I would be paying the same amount wherever I went in the UK. It doesn’t make any financial difference to me. I chose to study in Scotland because of the landscape, which as a geographer is very important to me.”

Matt, a first-year History student from London, believes that there are inequalities within the current system. He said: “Because I knew that I’d have to pay for university wherever I went in the UK, the fees really didn’t affect my decision to go to a Scottish university, and I chose Edinburgh because it had the unique mix of being a prestigious university as well as one with a lot of history […]

“However, seeing students from within the same country go to the same university for free, and having friends who are entitled to discounted education because they lived in Wales for a little bit [the Welsh Government pays the remainder of any tuition fee over £3,810 a year] reminds me how students from England seem to be disproportionately disadvantaged to other parts of the UK.”

A University of Edinburgh study in 2013 indicated that the Scottish Government’s policy of free tuition for Scottish students concentrates “resources on those who are already relatively advantaged” and that English universities are able to spend more on helping the financially disadvantaged.

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