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Capped places make university access ‘more difficult’

A cap on places for Scottish and EU students at Scottish universities is driving up entry requirements and excluding candidates, MSPs heard.

Scottish students find it “more difficult” to get into some university courses than a decade ago, an MSP has claimed.

Labour’s Johann Lamont said the Scottish Government’s cap on university places for Scottish and EU students, who receive free tuition, is leading to increased demand and pushing up entry requirements for some subjects.

Questioning higher education minister Shirley Anne Somerville, Ms Lamont said: “I’ve been told it is more difficult to get into university than it was 10 years ago, if you are a Scottish student.

“There is competition for certain courses which means, as a consequence, that we are having rationing by qualification.

“So maybe five or 10 years ago you would have access to a course that you can simply no longer do, simply because of the cap. Is this something the Scottish Government is prepared to look at?”

Johann Lamont questioned the higher education minister (Danny Lawson/PA)

The minister, giving evidence at Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee, said she wanted universities to act faster on the challenge of grade inflation, as outlined by Ms Lamont, through actions such as implementing minimum entry requirements and contextualised admissions.

She said Abertay University in Dundee had 107 students in September who received an offer of reduced qualifications, 63 of which needed the offer to gain access to university.

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the cap combined with the drive to widen access so that one in five university students are from Scotland’s 20% most deprived areas by 2030 would push out “well-qualified” Scottish students.

Ms Somerville said there is a fear of displacement rather than any actual evidence and stressed she wanted to change the system rather than extend an unfair system.

“Last year we saw a 13% increase in students from the most deprived communities and we also saw, overall, a record number of Scots accepted to university. So, that would tend to counter the argument that people were displaced,” the minister said.

She added: “What we are looking at is using the publicly-funded places that we have to create a fair system.”

A report by the Commissioner for Widening Access has recommended the government consider increasing the number of funded places to ensure overall demand could be met.

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