Parents demand answers over degree discrimination scandal that sees high achievers denied places on courses in favour of English and foreign students who pay sky-high fees
Angry parents want to know why their kids are 'discriminated' against
School leavers with as many as eight A passes in their Highers have been rejected from Scotland’s top universities in favour of English and foreign students who pay sky-high fees.
Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney have been sent dozens of letters from furious parents after their children lost out on places.
The Scottish Government’s free education policy means universities have quotas for domestic applicants, while they can accept as many as they want from fee-paying countries.
Today, we reveal heartbreaking correspondence from mums and dads to the First Minister and Education Secretary that show youngsters who have up to eight A-grade Highers being rejected from law, medicine and international relations degrees.
One letter, released through freedom of information, said: “Just over two weeks ago, my son had his dream shattered when, despite six As at Higher and on track for a further three As at Advanced Higher, and various other achievements, he was rejected for the course he has been driving towards for years – international relations at St Andrews University.
Letters have been sent to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
“These achievements are the result of a huge amount of hard work and dedication.
“He has done all that was asked of him and more, and much of the reason for his rejection is a direct consequence of your funding system and cap, which is making it harder and harder for Scots to achieve a place at a Scottish university.
“Every other nation has a better chance of going to a Scottish university than Scots do.”
Fees for English students are about £9000 a year at top Scottish universities while those from countries outside the EU can pay over £20,000 a year.
Another letter said: “Why is it that a straight-A student with extracurricular experience (sports, volunteering, Duke of Edinburgh, etc), who has followed the advice of Pathways in course choices and gained work experience, is rejected outright for medicine from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and St Andrews?
One student's years of work targeting a course at St Andrews University came to nothing
“We are now working through options with our daughter and I am shocked to realise that those options are very limited. I put this down to quotas and rationing of places to home/EU students. Options are available to those who pay fees but we don’t even get that option because we are Scottish.”
The parent, whose name was redacted, added: “In a country crying out for doctors, this seems like a wasted opportunity for everyone.”
Another letter, sent in August 2017, stated: “My daughter is 18 and has just left school with six As in Highers and two As in maths and chemistry in Advanced Highers. She worked incredibly hard for these results without the help of tutors or supported study. She applied to study medicine in Scotland but was unsuccessful.”
The letter added that after the teenager tried instead to apply for maths and finance through clearing, she was told “no places were available for Scottish students”.
Glasgow Uni had 29 courses available to students from elsewhere in the UK compared to five for Scots
Another letter from a school teacher mum whose son had missed out on a university place, despite having top grades, added: “I am appalled that our students are being discriminated because they are Scottish.
“Had my son been born in Ireland or overseas he would have been able to start the course of his choice in September.
“As a proud mum of two girls and an 18-year-old son, I feel I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t write to you to address this issue.”
The parent of another 18-year-old boy who had five As asked Swinney: “Can you tell me why there are opportunities for international students and those from the rest of the UK in almost every discipline but the only options open to Scottish students are in secondary education and nursing?”
The Government’s Scottish Funding Council determine the number of places available for students from Scotland and the EU based on the amount of funding available.
Universities can then independently set the number of students taken in from England and other countries who pay fees. An analysis of places available through the last-minute clearing process earlier this year revealed that Glasgow University had 29 courses available to hopefuls from elsewhere in the UK compared to just five for Scottish students.
Applicants to Aberdeen University from England could pick from a list of 390 courses but none were available to Scottish school leavers.
Universities Scotland said: “We understand the frustrations of parents and pupils who haven’t been able to study the courses they wanted. Scotland’s funding model means the Scottish Government cover the cost of undergraduate degrees for Scots and EU-domiciled students. That means they cap the number of places available to keep control of cost.
“Universities can only recruit to fill the places available and if there is high demand for places it creates the situation we have now.”
Professor Andrea Nolan, chair of Universities Scotland, warned a Holyrood inquiry two years ago the Government would need to increase quotas for Scottish students if they wanted to get more youngsters from poor backgrounds on to courses without displacing other school leavers.
The evidence followed an official report that revealed funding had not kept pace with the increasing number of applications.
The Audit Scotland study said this meant it has become “more difficult” for Scottish youngsters to win a place.
The Scottish Government said: “The number of Scots winning a place at university is at a record high, as is the number of students attending university from the poorest backgrounds.
“This is testament to the Scottish Government’s commitment to maintaining free university education for students from all backgrounds.
“Our commitment to free tuition means that, unlike elsewhere in the UK, Scottish students studying in Scotland do not incur additional debt of up to £27,000 and average student loan debt is the lowest in the UK.
“We’re investing a record amount in student support which has meant thousands more qualifying for a bursary or increased funding.”
The universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh declined to comment when we contacted them.
St Andrews University said: “Restricted numbers have always been a consequence of the current Scottish system but we are committed to work with the Scottish Government on a shared objective of ensuring that as many bright young Scots as possible are able to benefit from a university education.”
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