MINISTERS have hailed the latest increase in applications to Scottish universities as evidence of excellence in the sector and justification for its stance on tuition fees.

Total applications received by June 30 rose 6.1%, from 104,870 to 111,296 compared with the same period last year, admissions service Ucas said. Applications from candidates based in Scotland who want to remain in the country to study rose 1.2% to 42,201, the figures show.

Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "Scotland's universities have a reputation for excellence and today's figures show their appeal is as strong as ever."

Applications from England-based candidates to study in Scotland rose 14% to 28,860 and applications from Northern Ireland rose 16.2% to 6103. Welsh applications fell 2.5% to 867.

Overseas applications also rose, the figures show.

Kez Dugdale, Labour's education spokeswoman said: "These figures don't show whether we've been any more successful in encouraging children from the poorest backgrounds."