Scottish university applicants are being locked out of the clearing process entirely at certain Scottish universities, Holyrood can reveal.
The National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland has attacked “the unfairness built into the [clearing] system”, with at least three institutions only opening the process to fee-paying students from the rest of the UK (RUK) and from countries outside the EU.
The University of Aberdeen, the University of Stirling, and the Glasgow School of Art opened their clearing processes today for the first time, coinciding with the publication of A-level results in England and Wales. Places are only being offered to RUK and international students, who are liable for up to £9,000 per year in fees, depending on the institution.
In addition, the University of Strathclyde has clearing places listed on the UCAS online database for international students only, despite a statement on its website that the institution “is not in clearing”. The University of Edinburgh has not traditionally entered the domestic clearing process, and is only accepting international students via clearing.
The university term beginning this autumn is the first in which RUK students will join international students from outside the EU in paying fees, following a rise in the tuition cap in the rest of the United Kingdom. A decision by the Scottish Government allowed Scottish institution to charge RUK students equivalent annual fees in order to close the ‘funding gap’ between Scottish and English higher education institutions.
NUS Scotland president Robin Parker said: “Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland cannot take places away from Scottish students, and places for Scottish and EU students have been protected. However, when Scottish students are being turned away from clearing, while counterparts from across the border are being welcomed with open arms, I can entirely understand why students in Scotland will feel aggrieved.
“This is yet another example of the unfairness built into the new system of tuition fees for students from the rest of the UK. We’ve always said it’s unfair on students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be asked to pay up to £36,000 for a degree. This just shows the potential for unfairness for Scottish and EU students too.
“We need to see reforms to the fees system for students from the rest of the UK and we will work incredibly hard to push for a fairer system, through the parliament over the coming months. We also need to do everything we can to increase the numbers of Scottish students able to go to university in Scotland and so universities and government must work together to do all they can to increase the number of places available.”
The clearing process has been especially difficult for Scottish students this year, with record high Standard and Higher grade exam results meaning that very few places went to clearing at universities opened the process to domestic applicants.
Following the publication of figures in the Daily Telegraph highlighting the relative lack of clearing places for Scots compared with their fee-paying counterparts, figures from all opposition parties at Holyrood questioned the fairness of the clearing process.
A spokesperson for the University of Aberdeen said: “The University of Aberdeen seeks to recruit as many well qualified applicants as possible.
“The university has reached its Scottish Government-set quota for funded places. However we are still in a position to offer RUK and international students, places through clearing where vacancies exist.
“The SFC apply a 10% tolerance threshold to the cap they set for the total population of Scottish/EU full time undergraduate students at the University. We anticipate that we will use this 10% tolerance threshold.”
A spokesperson from Heriot-Watt University said, “’Heriot-Watt has a strictly limited number of funded places for Scottish & EU undergraduate students given to us by the Scottish Government. These places have been allocated and the University did not go into clearing this year.
“The University does not have limits on RUK or non-EU applicants and we are still accepting applications through clearing from some students in this category.”
The University of Stirling did not respond to a request for comment.