An art college principal accused Scottish funding chiefs of selling young artists and designers short, challenging the Scottish executive to recognise art and design as a higher education priority.
Alistair Rowan, principal of Edinburgh College of Art, said there was a shocking lack of opportunity for talented artistic people to develop their skills north of the border.
Speaking at his college's graduation ceremony, he said: "In Scotland, we offer education in art and design to little more than half the proportion of students that the English do, and even they are not particularly generous in providing for art education," he said.
In England, the proportion of school leavers taking art and design was less than 7 per cent, but "in Scotland we do even worse, for here the funding council will only permit us to educate a measly 3.6 per cent of the total university population," he said.
"What is astonishing is that the government's policy of giving preference to specific subjects as priority areas in education is driving the percentages down. Five years ago, some 8.2 per cent of university students in England were in art and design, while in Scotland it was 4.3 per cent," he added.
The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's policies were out of step with the cultural rhetoric, which highlighted the importance of creative industries to the economy, Professor Rowan said.
"What is needed is for the Scottish government and the funding council to recognise art and design as a priority for higher education and to begin to fund Scottish creativity in the manner that it deserves."
A spokeswoman for SHEFC said that since 1994-95, the numbers of funded places for art, design and performing arts in Scottish higher education had increased by almost 1,000 to 4,000. This was despite an overall government cap on full-time student numbers. "Council funding must be balanced across a range of subjects to underpin Scotland's economic strengths and give people opportunities to make the most of their talents," she said.
"The council is now reviewing its funding methods to ensure that government policies on wider access and lifelong learning are delivered. The art colleges will be eligible for these funds along with all other Scottish higher education institutions."
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said the arts played a vital role in Scotland's culture. Future funding for Scottish arts and heritage would be considered part of the national cultural strategy now being developed.