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A royal welcome awaits you at institutions north of the border

Students are flocking to Scottish universities

Although the recent interest surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is probably not unwelcome at St Andrews, the story of many of Scotland's universities goes back hundreds of years, and the country can give prospective students a great deal in terms of education, career prospects and, of course, life-enhancing experiences.

There are 19 higher education institutions in Scotland, including 16 universities.

They boast a rich heritage - St Andrews was founded in 1413, and the principles of the education system pioneered in the ancient universities (which also include Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen) formed the basis of other systems the world over, notably in the US, Canada and France. Nowadays, every Scottish university carries out active research, and more than 4,400 taught courses are available to students across the various institutions.

"Scotland's universities are internationally renowned for excellence and have much to offer," says Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, adding that Scotland has some of the world's oldest universities, and five among the top 150 in the world.Scottish degrees are four years long.

Students aren't restricted to spending all of those years at one place: some might study a two-year higher national diploma (HND) course at college before moving on for two more years of study at university and gaining an honours degree. According to Sim, a four year programme gives learners the opportunity to develop a more rounded skill set. "We must be doing something right as students at Scottish universities report the highest satisfaction rates in the UK according to the National Student Survey," he adds.Scotland is a popular destination for continuing study, with both taught and research-led programmes available.

"Postgraduate students will have the chance to work at research-active universities and opportunities to partner with business and industry, engaging in the exchange and transfer of knowledge and contributing to future economic, business and research development," explains Sim.

While undergraduate and postgraduate students come to Scotland from the UK, a significant number arrive from overseas too - 30,000 students from 180 countries begin courses every year. Wherever in the world they come from, Sim believes they are attracted by more than league table results.

"There's more to university than just study and Scotland is the perfect destination with vibrant, cosmopolitan cities, beautiful countryside and a welcoming spirit," he says.Students can certainly look forward to a wide range of extra-curricular diversions.

Glasgow was named a European Capital of Culture, and Edinburgh hosts one of the world's largest arts festivals every August, should they feel like taking in live music, visiting galleries and museums or scratching a creative itch. Then to recuperate there's the fresh air and altitude of the Highlands and Ben Nevis, the UK's highest peak. Those wanting to go even further can brave the far islands to learn about whisky, or the shores of Loch Ness to learn how to create a legend from a photo of an oddly shaped log.

Then, of course, there's an infectious passion for sport (especially football) that can bring the country to a standstill. You can even surf - just be sure to fully suit-up for the chilly waters.

Beyond education, students might stay on to find employment in major areas such as finance, oil and gas, tourism and the creative industries.

Overseas students can also take advantage of the Fresh Talent initiative, which allows them to stay in the country without a work permit for two years after the completion of an academic qualification ( scotlandistheplace.com).

Students applying to a Scottish institution need to go through UCAS ( ucas.com). It's worth keeping an eye on the fees situation; EU students currently don't have to pay tuition fees, but subject to parliamentary approval in the autumn, Scottish universities will be able to set their own fees for UK undergraduate students permanently living outside Scotland. Once fee amounts for 2012-13 have been agreed, the information will be available through UCAS.

Wherever students may come from, they are unlikely to have to endure the level of attention surrounding a royal romance, leaving them free to enjoy Scotland's world-class education, proud culture and warmest hospitality. That can only be to their benefit for, as the scholar Dr Louis B Wright once put it: "If one took the Scots out of the world, it would fall apart."

For more information, see Universities Scotland ( universities-scotland.ac.uk) and Education UK ( educationuk.org)