Alastair Sim: UCAS admissions data commentary

“When it comes to admissions, student behaviour has been impossible to predict this year given the vast scale of changes to student fees and finance across the UK and greater-than-ever divergence between the nations when it comes to fees.

“UCAS’s comprehensive end-of-year analysis, which runs to over 60 pages, aims to shed some light on the picture across the UK. As far as Scotland is concerned, the main thing to be taken from the analysis is that demand for a university education is still very strong. Fears that cross-UK confusion could deter Scots from their entitlement to a free higher education in Scotland have not been realised, with a broadly steady level of applicants across all age profiles. Demand for a Scottish university education from applicants from the rest of the UK has also held up much better than some people predicted, despite the necessary introduction of fees for these students. The 5.5 per cent drop in English applicants to universities in Scotland is around half the corresponding drop in English applicants to English universities. Applicants appear to have done their research and found that Scotland offers a quality and breadth of education, the strongest employment prospects in the UK and a competitive level of bursaries and means-tested student support.

“Finally for Scotland, the Scottish Government was concerned that Scotland’s prized university sector should not be seen as the ‘cheap option’. Although there has been a small rise in EU applicants entitled to a free higher education in Scotland, this increase has been outstripped, three-fold, by the 18.6% increase in fee-paying international applicants to Scotland. This reaffirms that Scotland continues to be an internationally sought-after destination for study for all the right reasons.

It is interesting to have time to reflect on UCAS’s analysis in the relative calm ahead of Highers and A-Level results day. However, today’s statistics only tell us about applicants to university. Results day will see applications and offers-made translate into students-on-seats based on grades achieved. Further analysis will be needed then to see the true impact of student choice on the UK’s universities and our universities in Scotland.”