Scottish exam results day: Record number of students awarded university places as pass rates drop

More than 29,800 admitted onto higher education courses this year

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 07 August 2018 16:07 BST
Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney meeting pupils at Firrhill High School in Edinburgh as they get their exam results
Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney meeting pupils at Firrhill High School in Edinburgh as they get their exam results (David Cheskin/PA Wire)

The number of Scottish students who have been accepted onto their university courses has risen to a record high, despite a fall in the overall number of 18-year-olds in Scotland.

On Tuesday morning, 135,000 youngsters found out their results for their Nationals, Highers and Advanced Highers and more than 29,800 had their university applications confirmed.

A record number of Scottish students secured a place at a Scottish university – a rise of 4 per cent – despite a year-on-year fall in pass rates for pupils sitting Scottish exams.

Official figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) released on Tuesday show that there were 191,951 entries for Higher exams in 2018, with 147,419 attaining a pass grade of A- C.

The proportion of A-C Higher passes fell very slightly from 77 per cent last year – when there were 194,813 entries – to 76.8 per cent.

The National 5 pass rate for A to C grades also fell to 77.4 per cent from 79.5 per cent, meanwhile the pass rate at National 4 dropped slightly from 92.8 per cent to 91.1 per cent.

But the results showed a record number of entries for Advanced Higher (24,331) since changes to the qualification were made in 2015/16, with attainment rates remaining high at 80.5 per cent.

John Swinney, deputy first minister and Scottish education secretary, said: "Results day is a time to celebrate the achievements and dedication of learners right across the country, especially in this the Year of Young People.”

He added: "Higher passes remain stable despite a continuing fall in the number of young people on the school roll while the number of Advanced Highers being taken continues to grow.

"It is important to remember that we will always see slight variations in pass rates and the results show that we have a robust, credible assessment system in place.”

Opposition parties congratulated pupils but voiced concern about falling attainment levels.

Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith accused the SNP administration of "complacency".

She said: "There's no escaping the fact that, for a government which claims its priority is education, these are disappointing statistics.

"There has been no improvement in overall attainment across the board and these statistics confirm there are still major issues about the mix between National 4 and National 5 qualifications."

Labour's Iain Gray said: "The real concern is that these falls in attainment are now clear trends over a number of years.

"It would appear that years of cuts to school budgets and teacher numbers, along with the narrowing of the curriculum and reduced course choice, are now having an impact on exam results."

Meanwhile, figures from Ucas show that 29,830 students from Scotland have had their university applications confirmed – a record high despite a 3.1 per cent fall in the population of 18-year olds.

The number of prospective students from the most-deprived areas of the country successfully getting a place at a UK university also rose by 5 per cent to 4,340.

But only 3,310 EU students have been accepted to study in Scotland - a fall of 2 per cent.

Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said: “Congratulations to everyone who has had their place confirmed – today marks the next step of your life journey.

“The record proportion of young people accepted, and in particular 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, is great news for Scottish higher education.”

Additional reporting by PA

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