Russell to 'set the record straight' over university places
Education secretary Michael Russell has asked opposition politicians to help him "set the record straight" in a row over Scottish university places.
The Scottish government has insisted that no university place set aside for a Scottish or EU student can be taken by a student from elsewhere in the UK. But after a number of newspapers suggested that, under the clearing process, these "protected" Scottish places were being offered to RUK (rest of the UK) fee-paying students to the disadvantage of Scots, Mr Russell hit back over what he described as "highly misleading coverage" in some newspapers.
In a letter to MSPs Liz Smith, Hugh Henry and Liam McArthur, education spokespeople for the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem parties respectively, he said: "We reluctantly de-regulated places for students from the rest of the United Kingdom and had to protect places for Scottish and EU students, specifically because the introduction of pound;9,000 tuition fees in England would otherwise have created a wave of `fee refugees'.
"Consequently there is now no question of a place protected for a ScottishEU student being taken by a student from anywhere else, and I would of course welcome your assistance in correcting any highly misleading coverage in the media which suggests otherwise."
This year, the new process means that if, for example, only 950 out of 1,000 capped Scottish places are taken up by ScottishEU applicants, a university cannot offer these in clearing to RUK applicants.
But for the first time, Scottish universities have discretion to recruit an unregulated number of RUK students over and above its capped ScottishEU figure - and it is these places which some universities have put into clearing for RUK students only.
Mr Russell said: "We are offering more places to more Scottish applicants than ever before and the vast majority of well-qualified, Scottish- domiciled applicants who want a place at university in Scotland will get one."
Places available through clearing for Scottish students had always been limited, he stressed, and while universities were able to offer unregulated places for RUK students, it was not in their interest to accept lower-qualified students.