Page last updated at 18:33 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Universities see rise in applications from older people

The competition for places at Scottish universities will be tough this year

The number of people from Scotland over the age of 25 who have applied to university has more than doubled.

There has been a 108% rise in the amount of would-be mature students in the past year, Ucas figures have shown.

There has also been a 58% increase in the 21-24 age group, and numbers for the under 20s are up by almost 20%.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said the large number of applicants would make competition for places even tougher.

In total, applications from people in Scotland to Scottish Universities were up to 37,964 compared with 28,790 at this time last year - an increase of more than 31%.

Unless action is taken urgently many thousands of talented people face being denied a university place just when we need them the most
Liam Burns
NUS Scotland

Director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim, said some of the increase was due to a change in the applications process but nonetheless it was a remarkable rise in demand.

He added that there would be tough choices.

The Scottish government has long standing plans to allow universities to take in extra students but the places are not fully funded by the public purse.

Mr Sim added: "Without additional funding, universities don't have the infrastructure for major expansion," he said.

"Large numbers of unfunded students would inevitably damage the quality of education and student experience for all.

"Scots' increasing aspiration for a university education will be an issue for the Scottish government as it faces up to future public funding challenges."

The University application service Ucas, which released the statistics, said the current economic situation could be causing people to apply to higher education as a way of re-training to ready themselves for the job market once the economy picks up.

Denied place

President of NUS Scotland Liam Burns said: "Unless action is taken urgently many thousands of talented people face being denied a university place just when we need them the most."

He called on the Scottish government to prioritise funding and added: "It is crucial that this surge in applications does not mean that students from poorer backgrounds are pushed out of Scottish universities.

"It would be all too easy to allow widening access work to go out the window, given the pressures facing the system, but we cannot afford to let that happen."

Education Secretary Mike Russell defended the Scottish government's record on education.

He said: "The Scottish government is continuing to invest more than £1bn a year in our universities.

"In addition, colleges and universities have benefited from accelerated capital spending of £20.5m over the period 2008-10 to improve their facilities for the increasing number of students."

Mr Russell added that people need to be careful about how the rise in figures was interpreted.

Fight for places

He said: "In some cases, such as nursing and arts courses, this is due to changes in admission processes, while we expect that recent coverage about demand for places during the downturn has resulted in many more prospective students applying for courses earlier than in previous years."

But the University and College Union Scotland said students would have their dreams of a university education shattered because the increase would lead to a fight for places.

Scotland official, Mary Senior, said: "Many potential students are going to miss out on a university education which would have helped them find employment after the recession because of a lack of investment in our brightest citizens.

"Other leading economies are investing money in universities in order to help economic growth and widen participation, while Scotland stands still.

"This approach is an insult and a snub to the thousands of students the government has been encouraging to reach for university for the entirety of their educational career."

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