Scottish Highers: more students secure university places

Younger applicants drive growth, despite fall in overall 18-year-old population

August 7, 2018

The number of Scottish-domiciled applicants securing university places on Higher results day has risen by 4 per cent, to a record high of 29,830 admitted applicants.

Of those students, 28,970 will be studying at university in Scotland, according to Ucas.

This year, the growth came from the younger age groups: the number of students under 20 who were placed by 7 August grew by 840 (4.9 per cent) from 2017.

This was largely down to an increase in the number of 18-year-old students, up by 540 (4 per cent), despite a total fall in the overall Scottish population of 18-year-olds of 3.1 per cent. The number of 17-year-olds and under grew by 10 per cent to 410, and the number of 19-year-olds grew by 7 per cent to 3,850.

For the past two years, the growth in applicants securing places had been driven by an increase in the older age groups.

The latest figures show that the proportion of all 18-year-olds in Scotland entering higher education has now risen to 23.3 per cent, the largest that it has ever been.

This year, there was an increase in the number of non-European Union students accepted to study in Scotland, by 5 per cent from 2017, but a 2 per cent decrease in the number of students from the EU, excluding the UK, to 2,140.

The number of 18-year-old Scottish students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds increased by 9 per cent, to 1,270, this year. The number of 18-year-olds from the least disadvantaged backgrounds increased by only 3 per cent, but this group still makes up a much larger proportion of the students entering university, with 4,500 placed this year.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said that the “rising number of students from the most deprived backgrounds attending universities” was a big success story “which shouldn’t be ignored”.

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said that “the record proportion of young people accepted, and in particular 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, is great news for Scottish higher education”.

Figures published by the Scottish Qualifications Agency showed that the number of Higher passes had fallen slightly again this year, with a pass rate of 76.8 per cent, compared with 77 per cent in 2017.

The pass rate has been declining steadily for the past few years: in 2016, it was 77.2 per cent, while it was 79.2 per cent in 2015, when changes were made to the qualifications.

Deputy first minister John Swinney said that he was pleased to see that a greater range of skills-based qualifications was “delivering for students, with the number of awards increasing to 50,305 this year, more than double the number in 2012”.

“It is important to remember that we will always see slight variations in pass rates and the results show that we have a robust, credible assessment system in place.”

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