Scotland-domiciled Students (Scottish Universities)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th September 2022.

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Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the number of Scotland-domiciled students attending Scottish universities. (S6O-01341)

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

In the latest figures that we have, which are for the academic year 2020-21, there were a total of 180,170 Scotland-domiciled students attending Scottish universities.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

According to Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures, there has been a 56 per cent increase in the number of people attending Scottish universities since 2006. However, there has been an 83 per cent increase in the number of Scotland-domiciled applicants being denied a place.

The Scottish National Party-Green Administration claims to be on the side of Scotland, but the current model short-changes Scottish pupils. Does the minister consider that that is a problem? What action is needed to address it?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

Ms Gosal says that the Scottish system leaves Scottish students short-changed. Let me tell her about that system. It has delivered 180,000 Scotland-domiciled students in the most recent academic year, which is up from 167,030 in the year before, and it is delivering that number on the basis of those students not having to pay £9,000 a year, as is the case under her party’s Administration south of the border.

In that regard, I could not help but notice former Tory MP Luke Graham’s article in

The Times this week, which was headed “Time to be bold on national education”. In it, he said:

“There now exists a unique opportunity for the new prime minister to hold the devolved governments to account.”

That sounds very much like unsubtle code inviting the United Kingdom Government to introduce tuition fees here, in Scotland.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I welcome the record number of Scotland-domiciled students who have secured a place at university. Let us not be negative, Ms Gosal; that is a testament to the hard work of students and teachers across Scotland.

Minister, how many of those new university students come from deprived areas?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

What I can say to Mr Doris about the process for the current year—we do not have the final numbers, as we have still to go through the clearance process—is that, as things stand, the number of 18-year-olds from deprived areas who have secured university places has gone up by 29 per cent since 2019, which is the most recent year in which there were exams. We are making good progress in achieving our target of ensuring that, by 2030, 20 per cent of students come from Scottish index of multiple deprivation 20 areas.

Good year-on-year progress has been made in that regard. Indeed, in Mr Doris’s home city, over the period that I mentioned, there has been significant growth in the number of 18-year-olds from SIMD20 areas attending the three universities there. That figure has gone up by 15 per cent at Glasgow Caledonian University, by 22 per cent at the University of Strathclyde and by 76 per cent at the University of Glasgow. That is the progress that is being made under this Administration.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Despite what he has said, the minister must acknowledge that there are many excellent Scottish students who are being deprived of a place at Scottish universities because of the cap on places. Is he saying that he is going to do nothing to resolve that problem? Does he not recognise that issue? Will he agree to meet me to discuss it further?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I am always delighted to meet Mr Rennie, so I will be happy to accept his invitation to do so.

It has always been the case that there are people who apply to university who, unfortunately, do not manage to access university. That is always very disappointing for those individuals. Incidentally, it is not a unique phenomenon in Scotland—it happens in other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom. Not everyone who applies to university in England, Wales or Northern Ireland goes on to access university.

I have already made the point that, under the current system, 180,000 Scotland-domiciled students are being supported into Scottish universities. That is up on the previous figures and is a good direction of travel. Those students are not having to pay to access university. That is a record of achievement that I am proud of.