Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 16:23 UK

Drop in Scottish student numbers

Generic students on graduation day
Student numbers have fallen slightly after reaching a record high

The number of students on Scottish campuses fell for the first time since the millennium - despite numbers rising in England.

Scottish government figures showed that in the academic year 2007-8 there were almost 273,000 students in Scotland - a fall of 2.5% on the previous year.

The level nudged up by 0.5% in England during the same period.

The Scottish government said next year's figures would show a large rise in new students.

The figures from the chief statistician showed slightly more than three quarters of students at Scottish institutions were classed as "Scottish domiciled", with overseas student numbers remaining relatively stable at 35,165.

India provided the largest number of foreign students to Scotland with 3,815, overtaking China, which had 3,765 students.

BBC Scotland education correspondent Seonag MacKinnon said the proportion of young Scots going into higher education had slumped since the turn of the millennium.

Seonag MacKinnon, BBC Scotland education correspondent

Scotland has long been proud of high numbers going into higher education.

At the turn of the millennium a record 54% of young Scots took up places.

But in the space of seven years the level has slumped back to 43%.

Looking at the figure for the year to 2007-08, which includes older students and those from outside Scotland, we see numbers here down while increasing slightly in England.

The figures are puzzling since Scotland hasn't followed England in bringing in hefty tuition fees of more than £3,000 a year.

They suggest fees may not be a deterrent after all - perhaps because students only start paying them after graduation.

The Age Participation Index, which measures the number of young Scottish entrants to higher education, fell by 2.9% to 43.2% in 2007-08, driven mostly by a decline in the participation of young female students.

The figure had fallen by 11% in the space of seven years.

She added that the number of foreign students in Scotland had expanded enormously in recent years, and was an important source of revenue for Scottish institutions.

But, while the proportion of entrants from the most deprived areas of Scotland had improved slightly, they were still under-represented by 4.3%.

She added that the fall in Scottish student numbers was "surprising" since Scotland had not followed England in charging graduates tuition fees of more than £3,000 a year.

Tuition fees

A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said most of the new entrants who applied for university in 2007-08, would have done so under the previous administration and prior to the introduction of the "raft of measures to improve student support and reduce debt".

She said: "This has included the provision of a £38m package of grants for part-time learners, benefiting up to 20,000 students a year, the increase in the funds available for student hardship funds from the £14.04m we inherited to £16.44m in 2009/10, a rise of 17.1%, and the abolition of the graduate endowment fee, benefiting more than 50,000 graduates and students by more than £2,000."

There has also been a 10% increase in Ucas acceptances for entry in 2009-10 compared to 2008-09, she added.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Margaret Smith called on the Scottish government to act on student debt in order to prevent a skills gap developing, which she said was the "last thing we need as we fight to recover from this recession".

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