Milestone university admissions figures show demand from Scottish students remains strong and gives universities the best reason yet for cautious optimism

Figures published today [Tuesday 4 August] by UCAS, show the number of students accepting undergraduate places to study in Scotland’s universities, starting this autumn, has defied expectations, with an increase in the number of Scottish-domiciled applicants accepting places, and a tentative indication of continued demand from international students, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Whilst the data points to good news for students and for universities, there are many caveats to today’s dataset. Today’s data is not complete. UCAS will continue to process hundreds of students over the coming days so the figures will change and trends could also fluctuate. Additionally, students are under no obligation, having accepted a place, to then enrol on that course come September. The ongoing fluidity in regards to the coronavirus and concerns for public health could affect student behaviour over the next month, leading some students to withdraw from this year’s admissions cycle altogether. The data regarding students of EU and international (non-EU) domicile is even less reliable this year given the added logistical challenges facing these groups of students, including backlogs on visa processing and restrictions on international travel.

Whilst this years’ figures should be regarded with more caution than would ordinarily be the case at this late point in the admissions cycle, they do show some encouraging signs for the academic year ahead. Key positive indications in the data include:

  • A record entry rate for Scottish-domiciled 18 year olds, now at 23.9% up 0.6 percentage points at the same point in the 2019 cycle and a new record for SQA results day.
  • 28,240 Scottish-domiciled students have had a place at one of Scotland’s university confirmed so far, which is an increase of 360 students or 1% overall increase on the same point in the 2019 cycle.
  • There has been one percentage point in the number of students from Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas (SIMD20) securing a place at university, compared to the same point in the 2019 cycle. The number of students (of all ages) accepted from the most deprived areas has reached a new high of 4,360, with the gap to those accepted from the least deprived areas also reducing to the smallest ever ratio of 1.89. These data suggest that the system of awarded Higher grades in schools has not adversely affected opportunities for most disadvantaged applicants nor adversely impacted the drive to widening access to university.
  • The number of acceptances amongst international (non-EU) students is up by one percentage point compared to the same point in the 2019 cycle, which accounts for 30 additional students. However the number of international (non-EU) students still holding offers at this point is up 34% on last year which gives a sense of the continued uncertainty that exists in the admissions system. Further caveats needs to be attached to statistics for international students as UCAS handles only around 60 per cent of undergraduate admission applicants from international students. This data gives us some indication of demand from international student markets but it is only a partial picture relative to the data for other student domiciles, and does not include applicants for postgraduate study who are a crucial part of universities’ international offering.
  • The number of placed applicants from the EU has fallen by 15% or 480 students compared to the same point in the cycle in 2019.

Responding to the figures, Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland, said:

“Today’s figures suggest that Scottish student confidence in starting university this autumn has held strong, and that international students continue to recognise the value of Scottish higher education.

“What today’s data tells us is that there is a real commitment amongst applicants to start university, take up the positive opportunity available to them and get on with their lives. Students are looking beyond the current emergency, and are choosing to invest their time and talents in a university education since this will give them the best possible prospects for success. Well done to everyone receiving results today. You have had such a difficult and uncertain year to endure. The wait for today’s results must have been incredibly nerve-wracking but your teachers believed in you and the initial picture looks promising for Scottish students who were hoping to start university.

“Within that it’s particularly satisfying to see more learners from the most challenged backgrounds winning a place at university. Today’s data is not static and the numbers will fluctuate over the coming days and weeks as more students are processed. We very much hope this initial picture holds true as universities have been adamant since April that the impact of the pandemic should not be allowed to reinforce existing patterns of disadvantage.”

Today’s figures represent a major milestone in the admissions cycle. Ordinarily, they would give universities a robust basis for intake numbers come September. Almost all UK-domiciled students apply to university via UCAS. Around 60 per cent of international undergraduate students use UCAS to apply to university so the data are more of a partial picture for international (non-EU) students. Commenting specifically on the demand, and acceptances from international students, Alastair Sim:

“Serious caution needs to be applied to the international student numbers from today as they still face multiple logistical obstacles to studying in Scotland, including backlogs in visa processing and flight restrictions. What we’re seeing today offers some encouragement, but not all international students apply via UCAS. That is coupled with multiple factors still playing out in highly fluid global pandemic, most of which are far beyond our control as universities. That leaves a very significant element of uncertainty when it comes to international student numbers.

“Scotland has successfully supressed the virus and it’s a safe place to study and to live but no one working in universities is complacent. Universities have been planning for months to ensure they will deliver a safe and high-quality, if different, start to the new academic year and working hard with applicants to answer all questions and concerns. This will continue throughout August, through enrolment, and as long as needed.”

Clearing is now open to Scottish-domiciled students and UCAS will be processing potentially hundreds of students over the coming days and weeks through the Clearing system. There are places available to Scottish-domiciled students across Scotland and in a range of courses. Universities are reporting no major change to the availability of places available through clearing this year.


For further information please contact: Duncan McKay, Senior Public Affairs and Communications Officer, Universities Scotland, M: 07445 747 222,