University offer rate for Scottish students falls
The chances of a Scottish university applicant being offered a place have slipped, according to official figures.
Data from admissions body Ucas suggests the number of places available has gone up but demand is rising even faster.
The figures also showed a further rise in the number of people from disadvantaged areas being offered places.
The Scottish government said it was committed to delivering access to higher education for all.
According to Ucas, the "offer rate" to Scottish applicants was 59.6% - a 1.6% drop on last year.
There was a similar drop last year.
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: "Whilst the Ucas figures do not give a full account of higher education recruitment in Scotland, the capped places system for Scottish and EU students and very high demand inevitably means that there will be pressure on places.
"This is reflected in the offer rate. Universities in Scotland are committed for offering as many opportunities to students, regardless of their background or circumstances."
There is a cap on the number of places available to Scottish students because the Scottish government pays for their tuition. Students from EU countries outside the UK are also entitled to these places.
The number of places available to Scots and EU students is at or close to record levels.
Universities support the free tuition policy. But they argue the number of places will need to rise in the future, so universities can meet targets to increase the proportion of students from disadvantaged areas without making it more competitive for others to get in as a consequence.
Students from other parts of the UK and countries outside Europe pay tuition fees. Scottish universities can take in as many of them as they feel they are able to.
This year there was a rise in the offer-rate to English applicants.
Mr Sim said the entry rate for 18 year olds from the most deprived areas of Scotland was 51% higher than 10 years ago.
He said: "It is the result of committed work with schools and others to raise aspiration and attainment. But we are committed to improving further. We will seek to encourage well-qualified applicants from all backgrounds with potential to pursue a university career.
"We look forward to the appointment of the Commissioner on Widening Access to help develop work that universities in Scotland are already undertaking."
Further and Higher Education Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville, said the figures showed an all-time high number of young Scots gaining a place at Scottish universities.
She added that the figures also showed a record for 18-year-olds from Scotland's 20% most deprived areas getting into university.
The minister said: "We remain firmly committed to ensuring that tuition is free for first time Scottish and EU domiciled undergraduate students.
"Over 120,000 students are supported in this way every year. This direct government investment helps ensure that average student loan debt in Scotland is the lowest in the UK ".
The Ucas figures do not provide a full picture of the number of Scots going into higher education.
This is because colleges in Scotland and other parts of the UK have a different role. A substantial number of young people in Scotland access higher education through further education colleges.
Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: "Once again we are seeing Scottish students losing out when it comes to being offered a place at university in Scotland.
"Despite having outstanding grades, many Scottish students are finding it increasingly difficult to get into universities because of the constraints applied via the capping policy.
"The SNP have been warned that their discriminatory higher education funding policy would lead to this, but they have so far failed to take any action to address it."
Labour's education spokesman Iain Gray said: "Because places for Scottish students are funded, they are capped.
"So, while universities have expanded their offer to students from elsewhere in the UK, they have not been able to do so for Scottish students because the SNP government has squeezed the funding available.
"Labour supports free tuition, but if we are to widen access to universities for more Scottish students then the Scottish government has to stop cutting university budgets and use the powers they now have to start increasing education funding."