Universities in Scotland are racing to attract students from the rest of the UK in what promises to be “a clearing campaign like no other”, offering a range of financial incentives to lure them to study over the border.
Tens of thousands of pounds in bursaries and scholarships are being offered to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to entice them to take up places to study in Scotland this September.
With education a devolved area of policy in the UK, each nation’s government is able to set its own tuition fees and student support. Scotland does not charge tuition fees for its own students and as a consequence their numbers are capped.
Students from England and the other UK nations, however, are charged £9,250 a year when studying in Scottish universities, which will also be hoping to make gains having seen a dramatic drop in applications from EU students after Brexit.
According to data published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), overall applications from UK 18-year-olds to study in higher education have exceeded all previous records, increasing competition at the most sought after universities.
Pressure on places has been compounded further by the fact that a number of institutions – particularly those in the research-intensive Russell Group of universities – are reining in recruitment after A-level grade inflation during the pandemic forced them to take on additional students. The proportion of applications that resulted in an offer dropped from 60.5% in 2021 to 55.1% this summer.
University staff in Scottish higher education are expecting to be exceptionally busy during the clearing process this summer. “It promises to be a clearing campaign like no other,” said one.
Heriot-Watt, Strathclyde, and Dundee are among those hoping to benefit. Heriot-Watt University, for example, is offering a £1,500 bursary for UK students from outside Scotland – who are known as RUK or rest of UK students – to help pay for travel costs.
Dundee is offering an academic excellence scholarship to RUK students who have AAB or above at A-level, which is worth £3,000 for every year of study, as well as a one-off Discover Dundee bursary worth £2000, paid in two instalments in the first year. The University of Aberdeen is offering “merit scholarships” to RUK students, of £5,000 for those with AAA at A-level and £3,000 for students with AAB or ABB.
Strathclyde is offering £1,200 for RUK students who achieve AAB, also a one-off £1000 accommodation bursary for RUK students paying £9,250 fees, while Edinburgh Napier University is promoting its merit scholarship of £1,000 per year for RUK students with BBB or better at A-level. Access bursaries for students from lower income households are also available.
“The impact of the lockdowns mean this year’s clearing will be different with grades beginning to return to normal and universities managing their numbers carefully,” said Lucy Everest, global chief operating officer at Heriot-Watt University.
“While most universities north of the border will have already met their cap for students in Scotland, there are spaces available for these same programmes for the rest of the UK.
“Financial incentives are available to attract students who want to go further afield and consider studying at Scottish universities, which are already attractive to home-based students because they don’t pay fees.
“At Heriot-Watt, for example, financial support is available for UK-based students outside of Scotland to help pay for their travel costs – a major boost particularly against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis.
“Scottish universities have an unprecedented opportunity this year but it’s UK-based students, south of the border, who stand to be the big winners.”
A University of Dundee spokesperson added: “Dundee is an extremely attractive destination for students, as shown by sector-leading growth in international recruitment. We have a competitive range of scholarships in place for RUK students and clearing could prove to be a life-changing opportunity for them.”
Sander Kristel, the Ucas director of operations, said clearing was expected to be “dynamic” this year with at least 30,000 courses on offer.
“Incentives offered to students during clearing can be very useful for many applicants, especially where they offer savings on accommodation and ongoing costs. However, our advice is always to prioritise their course choices over any incentives because study is a long-term commitment which can shape future directions.”