Controversy over Scottish students' rejection from top universities
Scottish students are not getting into their university of choice, despite being top performers. Source: Shutterstock

Parents are protesting against their children being denied entry into top Scottish universities despite being high performing, The Scotsman recently reported.

Angry letters addressed to ministers were made public under the freedom of information act. They claimed that international students stand a better chance of entry into Scottish universities. In Scotland, higher education is free for citizens as universities are Government-funded. But this means that funds are limited and there’s also a cap on student placements.

Aberdeen University King’s College building, the oldest university in Aberdeen, Scotland. Source: Shutterstock

In the letters, one parent complained that despite their son achieving six As, also standing on track to receive three more Advanced Higher As, he was rejected by St Andrews University for an international relations degree.

“He has done all that was asked of him, 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.”

Another letter read, “We are now working through options with our daughter and I am shocked to realise that those options are limited. I put this down to 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.”

Yet another excerpt from one of the letters reads in a similar vein: “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?”

Although it was implied in the letters that Scottish students are being passed over for paying international students (students from elsewhere in the UK pay £9,000 a year to study at Scottish universities, while those from countries outside the EU can pay over £20,000 a year), a BBC Report recently stated that this is not the case. In fact, the capped places are reserved only for Scots and will not go towards international students’ placements.

However, the report highlights other reasons that may contribute to these top students being denied entry into Scottish universities. One is that free tuition provided by the government in an effort to help students from disadvantaged areas get access to higher education forces student placements to be regulated. If tuition was no longer free, there would be no more ‘capped’ places.

The Scottish government has been moving towards “contexualised admissions”. This means that they are now paying more attention to a candidate’s experience, personal qualities and potential, instead of top grades, thus giving more chances to students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may find top grades impossible to achieve.

This issue also raises the question that perhaps some students are not getting in because of their course of choice, which may be highly competitive and difficult to gain admission to a particular institution.

Arguments and parental anger aside, it’s clear that there are issues with the Scottish government’s free tuition policy along with misconception over university placements. It remains to be seen how these angry letters and the overarching issue will be addressed.

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