By Andrew Barr
The latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) have shown that Scotland is the only nation in the UK that has seen a rise in university and college admissions.
Acceptances to Scottish higher education institutions have increased by 0.7 per cent in contrast to acceptances in England which have fallen by almost 8 per cent within just one year, the steepest decline in the UK.
Commenting, SNP MSP Marco Biagi – a Member of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee - said:
“These latest figures show the stark contrast between the huge damage being done by tuition fees south of the border and Scotland’s commitment to free education.
“More and more people are being put off studying at institutions in the rest of the UK and the reason is quite clearly the sky-high tuition fees that students face.”
Interestingly, the decline in English acceptances is notably smaller than the decline in English applications. UK-wide there is a 10 per cent drop in English university applicants, considerably higher than the combined average UK figure of 7.7 per cent. According to UCAS, 15,000 English 18-year-olds who might have been expected to apply for university this year chose not to.
The Scottish National Party has made free education in Scotland a main priority during election campaigns, ensuring that education is “based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.”
Mr Biagi added he was “proud” to be part of a party which has such a firm stance on free education.
“Unlike the other parties who break their promises to students once in power, the SNP is the only major party in Scotland never to have voted for tuition fees - and these figures explain why this is so important.
“A skilled, well-educated workforce is essential to economic success and the Tory-led coalition is only storing up huge problems for the UK in future years with its actions.
“Thank goodness that Scotland’s Higher Education is already effectively independent – otherwise Scotland would currently be facing the same devastating decline in applications that the Tories are causing south of the Border.”
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont earlier this year made a speech to the Scottish Fabian Society claiming that the Scottish Government’s policy on free tuition was damaging education and was holding back some of Scotland’s most talented youngsters.
Ms Lamont had previously endorsed the principle of free education. The U-turn by the Scottish Labour leader was criticised as a "Nick Clegg moment", a reference to the Lib Dems voting for tuition fees in England despite pledging to oppose such a move before the General Election.
The issue of education was debated on Wednesday night when BBC Three held a higher education special on its political panel program Free Speech.
The panel featured Scotland’s youngest SNP MSP Humza Yousaf, journalist and broadcaster Milo Yiannopoulos, Institute of Economic Affairs Communications Director Ruth Porter and Iranian-English comedienne Shappi Khorsandi.
Humza Yousaf described free education as a “fundamental principle” and said the UK Government had its priorities in the wrong order.
“You can’t say on the one hand you don’t have enough money, and on the other hand manage to find 100 billion to renew nuclear trident missiles,” he said.
Milo Yiannopoulos claimed that Scottish education was funded by the English, and was booed by the Edinburgh audience.
“We pay our own way and we pay it pretty damn well,” replied Yousaf.
Viewers at home contributed to the debate by rating panellists on Twitter. Humza Yousaf connected most with the young audience UK-wide and won the debate whilst Milo Yiannopoulos, who said “I think it’s hilarious that Scotland thinks it can go independent”, came last.