A SCOTTISH university that undercut its rivals in setting fees for students from the rest of the UK has seen a dramatic rise in applications as other parts of the sector have reported a decline.
Glasgow University recorded an 11.4% increase in interest from students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland (RUK). This includes a 22% rise in the number of applications from England and a 37% increase in those applying from Wales.
In contrast, St Andrews University decided to go for the highest fees possible and registered a 5% reduction in applications from RUK students.
Official figures published earlier this month by Ucas, the universities admissions service, showed applications from RUK students to all Scottish universities dropped by 5% over the past year – from 24,979 to 23,689.
Although the overall figures are likely to improve once all applications have been processed – with some suggestions the final figure could represent a decline of 1.9% – any drop will be a concern to universities seeking to expand their numbers of RUK students to boost income.
The increase at Glasgow is significant because officials there decided to undercut rivals such as St Andrews and Edinburgh, which set the maximum fee of £36,000 for a four-year degree. Glasgow opted to charge a maximum of £26,000, also undercutting UK counterparts in the prestigious Russell Group of universities, which includes Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle, by £1000. It was hoped the move would help the university attract more RUK students by offering a Russell Group degree at a competitive cost.
Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Glasgow University said: "We are pleased our applications from the rest of the UK and internationally have all increased.
"This is a welcome vote of confidence from students regarding the quality of education and the wider student experience at Glasgow, one of Scotland's world-class universities."
A spokesman for St Andrews said: "We do not yet have final figures on application trends, but we anticipate a modest decrease in RUK applications of up to 5%. Overall, we expect applications to St Andrews to have grown by approximately 12%."
Edinburgh said it expected to see an increase in applications from RUK students, apart from those from Northern Ireland.
Graeme Kirkpatrick, depute president of NUS Scotland, said: "Given the astronomical fee level that it has set for students from the rest of the UK, St Andrews should be ashamed at the drop in applicants.
"We always said £36,000 was a ludicrous amount for anyone to pay for their education and it seems that students from the rest of UK agree, and are voting with their feet.
"Even the slightest bit of restraint from other universities in setting rest-of-UK fees seems to have reaped benefits in their applications figures."
Any fall in applications from RUK students has to be seen in the context of how many total applications universities receive from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Even with a fall of 5%, St Andrews is still attracting at least eight applications for every place and Edinburgh similarly attracts high numbers.
The focus on RUK students follows the decision by the Scottish Government to allow universities north of the Border to introduce fees of up to £9000 for RUK students. The new charges, which apply from this year, were introduced to raise additional revenue for universities, but there were fears the higher fees could deter students from coming.
Scottish higher education for Scottish students remains free, and the additional numbers of RUK students will not impact on places for home students because these are funded by the Scottish Government.