Students go north of the border to avoid fees

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The Independent Online

Scottish universities are courting growing numbers of English "fee refugees" heading north of the border to complete their studies.

New figures show an increase in prospective students from England turning to Scottish institutions to escape top-up fees, to be introduced south of the border in September.

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) statistics show that the total number of applicants to universities and colleges in England is down by 3.7 per cent while the number of applicants to Scottish institutions is up by 1.6 per cent. Considering that the number of resident Scots applying for universities in Scotland has dropped by 1.9 per cent it seems a growing number of cross-border applications are keeping numbers up.

The number of English applicants seeking a place at English universities and colleges fell by 4.5 per cent to 270,872 and the number of Scots seeking places at English institutions also fell by 3.5 per cent to 4,376.

Ian Gaffing, 17, from Co Durham, starts a four-year degree in mathematics at Aberdeen University next September. He said: "I never even thought of going to an English university. When you consider having to pay £3,000 in England and just £1,700 in Scotland it is worth thinking about."

When English universities were given the power to introduce variable tuition fees of up to £3,000, there were fears it would lead to an invasion north of the border which would squeeze out Scots students.

In response the Scottish Executive announced plans to increase charges for English students. Students from England applying to Scottish institutions have to pay £1,200 a year upfront, a figure which will rise to £1,700, while resident Scots pay a £2,000 contribution after graduating.

Yesterday the Scottish National Party said the figures showed Scots were becoming more reluctant to go to university. "Scots students aren't losing out to English students - they're losing out full stop," said Fiona Hyslop, the party's education spokeswoman.

"The fact that we're seeing the biggest decrease in applications from those over 25, those most likely to be put off study by the expense, suggests the massive debts incurred as a result of student loans are a major factor in discouraging Scots from applying."

The Scottish Executive admitted a drop in Scottish applications was cause for "concern". But a spokesman added: "Scotland already enjoys a high participation rate in higher education with almost 50 per cent of young people participating in higher education before their 21st birthday."

Alastair Hunter, president of the Association of University Teachers, said the anticipated surge in English fee refugees had not materialised. He called for more to be done to encourage Scottish students to go in to higher education.

Figures also show women far outnumber men in seeking university places. Across the UK, there were 208,020 female applicants compared with 163,654 men.

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