Around 4,000 people are being turned away by further education colleges because courses are full. This represents around 1 per cent of students in FE.
The results of the first assessment of "unmet demand" in the system, Exploring Capacity Issues in Scotland's Colleges, carried out by GEN consultants, show that the problem is less than had been assumed, according to government officials.
The findings will add to the pressures on ministers from college leaders to ease the bottlenecks. The Government, however, will point out that only some colleges and courses are affected; the most over-subscribed programmes appear to be in construction, care, and health and beauty.
The consultants suggest the Government has two choices - switch any "excess capacity" in courses to expand those with unmet demand, or provide additional resources. It would also have to make an assessment about which courses are important to the Scottish economy before reaching conclusions.
The consultants arrived at their figures by discounting multiple applications to more than one course or college. Among those being turned away are 2 per cent of the Neet group and disadvantaged young people in general.
They estimate that around half of the people colleges are turning away may re-apply the following year. The reasons given are that courses are full, rather than anything to do with qualifications or employability.
The colleges say there is a variety of reasons - lack of employment opportunities, restrictions on funding, difficulties finding qualified staff and limited campus space.
But the report also calls on colleges to review the way they do business. "Colleges stressed that they hardly ever reject an applicant outright and prefer to work with them to explore other course options, even if that course is at another college," it says. "This was at odds with the findings of the survey, which suggested that some of the rejected applicants were not offered wider provision. There is clearly an issue here for the sector in terms of ensuring adequate support to unsuccessful applicants."