Number of international students winning places at universities in Scotland reaches record high

Weaker pound and recruitment drive overseas may be behind rise, experts say

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 06 August 2019 17:48 BST
Tens of thousands of Scottish students have received results for their Nationals, Highers and Advanced Highers
Tens of thousands of Scottish students have received results for their Nationals, Highers and Advanced Highers (PA)

The number of international students who have been accepted onto degree courses at universities in Scotland has risen to a record high, Ucas figures show.

A total of 2,330 applicants from outside the EU have confirmed places at Scottish universities – an increase of 9 per cent compared with last year’s Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results day.

The weaker pound and an increased recruitment drive overseas could be behind the rise in international students, who pay more in tuition fees choosing to study in Scotland, experts say.

Meanwhile, the number of Scottish students who have been accepted onto a university course in Scotland has dropped.

It coincides with the pass rates for pupils sitting Scottish exams falling at every level except National 5.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of Scottish students found out their results for their Nationals, Highers and Advanced Highers – and more than 28,700 had their university places confirmed.

The number of Scottish students securing a place at a Scottish university fell by 4 per cent.

It comes at a time when the overall number of 18-year-olds in Scotland has dropped by 3.1 per cent.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think tank, said was a “shame” to see home students falling, adding that the UK needs higher-level skills “more than ever before”.

On the rise in non-EU students, he added: “I think the increase is partly down to factors like the value of the pound, though it is also a reflection of the high quality of Scotland’s universities.

“Also there’s a huge financial incentive for Scottish universities to recruit full-fee international students when they get so little resource to educate their fee-free home/EU students.”

A Universities Scotland spokesperson added: “The rise in international students attending Scottish universities this coming year is a result of our world-class universities as well as increasingly sophisticated recruitment and marketing.”

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said: “It’s really encouraging to see Scottish universities welcome students from around the world.”

Official figures from the SQA on Tuesday show that 185,914 pupils sat Higher exams this year. Of that number, 74.8 per cent achieved an A to C pass mark – a 2 per cent fall on 2018.

The number of students sitting Advanced Highers decreased from 24,331 to 23,460, and the pass rate fell by from 80.5 per cent to 79.4 per cent over the past year.

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Scottish Labour warned the falling pass rates were now “an established trend”.

Iain Gray, the party’s education spokesman, said: “These results show a fourth year of falling attainment in what the government calls the ‘gold standard’ Higher qualification.

“Years of sustained cuts to schools, thousands fewer teachers and the narrowing of the curriculum are failing our young people.”

But education secretary John Swinney defended the results, saying that if pass rates were to regularly increase “people would rightly question the robustness of our assessment system”.

He added: “These are a strong set of results which show a degree of year-on-year variation expected in a high-performing education system with credible assessment.”

Additional reporting by PA

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