Rise in number of undergraduate students in Scotland

Scotland was the only country in the UK to see an increase in university entrants in 2012-13, according to the statistics agency for the sector.

The rise in first year undergraduates was just 1% but contrasted with a significant fall in numbers in England.

The Scottish government claimed annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 were to blame for falling numbers in England.

The UK government said demand in England had since "returned to record levels".

The Higher Education Statistics Agency collected data on UK universities and higher education colleges.

Enrolment figures for the year 2012-13 showed that full-time first year undergraduate enrolments at Scottish universities increased by 2% compared to 2011-12. There was no percentage change in part-time enrolments, leaving a total 1% increase.

Tuition fees

England saw dramatic falls of 12% for full-time first year undergraduates and 33% for part-timers over the same period.

In Wales, there was a decline of 8% in full-time first year enrolments and 6% in part-time enrolments, while Northern Ireland saw a more modest fall of 1% for full-time students and no change for part-timers.

The Scottish government argued the figures were proof that its policy of not charging Scottish students tuition fees was working.

Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "In the face of £9,000 fees set by the Westminster government, something which has led to a sizeable drop in entrants in England, we protected places for Scottish students at Scottish universities.

"Today's figures show that the sector has not only remained resilient in the face of such pressures, attainment and the international reputation of one of the world's most respected higher education systems remains of a very high standard."

From September 2012, universities in England have been able to charge up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees.

Both Wales and Northern Ireland capped fees paid by their own students at £3,465 in 2012.

Further education

A spokesman for the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said: "In 2013, demand for full time higher education returned to record levels. Application rates for some of the most disadvantaged young people have risen to an all time high in England and more students than ever before are being successful in securing a place at their first choice institution.

"A reduction in entrants in 2012 was well documented and the numbers were affected by the significant number of students who opted not to defer their place from the year before."

Labour attacked the Scottish government's record on further education colleges.

Education spokeswoman Kezia Dugdale said: "Today the SNP would rather trumpet a 1% rise in university admissions than explain why under their watch college admissions have dropped by 37%, that's an incredible 140,000 students.

"Their raid on colleges has seen part-time courses slashed, teacher numbers cut and female admissions plummet.

"Colleges provide flexible learning opportunities for those re-entering the workforce such as women who have raised families, people looking to re-train and young people looking to start a career in a particular trade."

The Conservatives pointed to figures from the Scottish Funding Council showing a decline in numbers of college students, describing them as "damning".

Education spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: "At a time when employers are complaining about the quality of candidate emerging from schools, it is completely illogical to squeeze colleges.

"College offers endless opportunities for people from all backgrounds, and it is those opportunities the SNP are stamping out."

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