Universities (Access)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th December 2018.

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The First Minister:

Before we move on, let me dwell on the latest statistics for a moment, because I hope that members across the chamber will want to welcome them.

The statistics that have been issued by UCAS this morning show that the gap in getting places at university between those from the richest and those from the poorest backgrounds is now the smallest on record, and that it has been closing for the past three consecutive years.

On the wider question, the way in which Liz Smith characterises the situation betrays a misunderstanding of how the Scottish Government’s policy works. A set number of places are funded by the Scottish Government every year for Scotland-domiciled students. That is not a new policy. Those places are ring fenced; they are not subject to competition from students from the rest of the United Kingdom or international students.

The most important point, of course, is that the total number of funded places for Scotland-domiciled students in Scottish universities has increased. It increased in 2018-19 by 715 places over the previous year. Since 2012, there has been an increase of almost 2,500 places, with many of those having been targeted at areas including teacher education and nursing. The latest statistics show that the number of Scotland-domiciled students entering first-year medicine courses at Scottish higher education institutions has also increased.

Of course, resources are always finite: going back to our earlier discussions, I note that they will be even more finite if we follow the Tories’ tax policies. We will continue to take decisions that support record numbers of Scottish young people getting to university.

The final point that I will make is that I suspect that shortages right now of skilled workers in key sectors of the economy have a lot more to do with the Tories’ Brexit policy than with anything else.