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HE numbers at record levels despite crisis

During the course of this week's parliamentary inquiry, calls were made for a radical shake-up of the SQA, Neil Munro reports

THE NUMBER of Scots-based students accepted into higher education in Scotland this session has reached record levels, despite the SQA crisis. This is being partly attributed to the Executive's guarantee to universities and colleges that it would fund additional places kept open to ensure that exam delays did not lead students to miss out on HE .

But the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, giving evidence to the parliamentary education committee on Monday, warned that the institutions themselves would have to underwrite the bulk of the cost despite the Executive's funding.

David Caldwell, the committee's director, said HE institutions would receive only pound;1,050 of the pound;5,000 average cost of educating a full-time undergraduate. Joan Stringer, principal of Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh, who is the committee's vice-convener, said this would not be a one-off cost since the students would have to be supported for the three or four years of their course. But they were prepared to bear that cost so as not to disadvantage the students.

Mr Caldwell added, however, that they would b concerned if the numbers being admitted in future years were artifically depressed because funded student places had been allowed to overshoot their targets this session.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), provided to the exams inquiry, showed a 7.8 per cent rise in the number of Scots students being admitted to Scottish HE institutions this year and a 7.2 per cent increase in Scots finding a place elsewhere in the UK, compared with just 2 per cent more HE students in the UK overall.

Mr Caldwell told the MSPs that the committee had confidence in the quality of the students, and Professor Stringer said anyone admitted with lower grades than anticipated would be given additional support, particularly in the early stages of their courses.

The one area causing concern to HE principals is a 15 per cent drop in applicants to Scottish institutions from England.

Mr Caldwell said this could be a one-year blip, possibly due to English students not yet catching up with the fact that the Scottish Executive now helps to fund the fourth year of the Scottish honours degree for students from south of the border, where student contributions to tuition fees normally cover just three years.

NM

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