Falling English university admissions highlight tale of two governments

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   By a Newsnet reporter 

English universities admitted around 28,000 fewer students than expected last year, the decrease in numbers is thought to be due to the high cost of tuition fees faced by students studying in England.

Meanwhile in Scotland, where students are protected against tuition fees by the Scottish Government, admission numbers for the same period sat at an all-time high, leading Tim O’Shea, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Edinburgh to describe Scotland’s universities as “booming”.

In a demonstration that different education policies policies of Scotland and England are having an impact, it has been revealed that that Universities down south missed their recruitment targets by nine per cent after Westminster hiked the price of student fees.

However, figures show acceptances to Scottish institutions in the 2012-13 cycle rose 1.9%.

Speaking to the Times newspaper in April this year, Mr O’Shea said:

“We have a positive relation with the Scottish Government, and we’re flourishing, if you look at other European countries, we are in a higher education system which is booming. It doesn’t matter how you measure it.

“Do we have a good participation rate of students? Yes. Does our research team have impact? Massively – right at the top, better than England. Are we creating lots of economic opportunities for Scotland? Yes. Most countries in Europe would kill to have a university system like the Scottish one.

“My relation with all four Scottish Governments has been very positive … [they] have helped create the environment in which Scottish universities do really well. If I had a choice between running a state-funded university in America and running a university in Scotland, then Scotland is the place to be.”

NUS Scotland President Robin Parker commented:

“Our research shows that student hardship, and not having enough money to live on, is one of the largest deterrents to starting and staying at college or university. That’s why it’s so important to see the huge investment being made into financial support from this summer, worth an additional £140m per year in the money students receive in their pockets, with increases for the poorest students worth almost £1,000 a year each.”

SNP MSP and Holyrood education committee member Clare Adamson said:

“Education is a completely different story north and south of the border.

“While Westminster increases tuition fees, seeing a massive drop in the number of students attending university, the Scottish Government has a cast-iron commitment higher education should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

“That is a principle which we firmly committed ourselves to, which is why we abolished back-door tuition fees in Scotland when we came to office – and is part of the reason why Scottish universities, as Tim O’Shea says, are booming.

“These new statistics showing a nine per cent decrease in the number of students going to university in England simply strengthens the argument that decisions on Scotland’s universities should be made by people in Scotland.

“There can be little doubt that Westminster’s trebling of tuition fees to £9,000 south of the border has contributed to the decrease in acceptances.

“The SNP Government has reformed student support so they have more money in their pockets – a move that has been described by NUS Scotland as a ‘huge step forward’ and a ‘victory’ for students.

“That new student support package will guarantee a minimum income of £7,250 for the least well off students – almost £900 more than they previously received.

“Only a Yes vote in 2014 will ensure we get the right system in place for Scotland and see our universities continue to thrive.”