There will always be barriers to university admission, but one Scottish university chief suggested that allowing Scottish families to pay their way could make more places available to students.

Whether a student is applying from Scotland, elsewhere in the UK or internationally determines how many spaces they are competing for and how much they will pay in fees.

And because the Scottish Government foots the bill for Scottish students, government policy places a cap on the overall number of Scottish students that each university can admit.

The admissions process also gives special consideration to students from “less conventional backgrounds”, including those from Scotland’s most deprived areas.

Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, recently acknowledged that the Scottish Government caps and the university’s own special considerations put a limit on how many places are available each year. 

In 2022, Edinburgh University was only able to offer places to one-third of its applicants. Overall, 75,438 potential students were competing for roughly 6,000 places.

Should parents be allowed to pay their way?

Sir Peter suggested that charging more Scottish students for tuition could make more places available at universities. And one possible way of doing that would be to allow Scottish families to pay undergraduate fees in full – as long they have the means of doing so.

“Wealthy families in Scotland can currently pay for their offspring to go to university in England or abroad but not in Scotland: therefore, talent and money are leaving Scotland,” he wrote in Wednesday’s The Herald.

“Changing any of this would be a political decision beyond my control, but it is worthy of calm consideration.”

Although there could be worries about students paying for places they haven't earned, Edinburgh University’s admissions guidelines make it clear that the minimum requirements for entry are the same for all students, whether they pay fees or not.

Any changes to the fee structure for Scottish students would likely require the Scottish Government to intervene. But are the possible benefits worth making significant changes to how Scottish families pay for university?