SCOTTISH students are being squeezed out of university places north of the Border because of the tuition fee policy operating in England, according to experts.

A new report has concluded that Scottish students are being discouraged from going to university in England since the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9000 in 2012.

The trend means more students are applying to Scottish universities instead, creating additional pressure on places here and a fall in the numbers of first year undergraduates being accepted from 53,760 in 2011/12 to 52,610 in 2013/14 - a drop of 2.1 per cent.

The report by the Independent Commission on Fees comes just weeks after figures revealed Scottish students are also facing greater pressure for places after a sharp rise in the number of applicants from the rest of Europe.

The commission report states: "There has been a slight increase in the proportion of Scottish..... applications made within country. This may be a consequence of..... more generous fee arrangements for resident students studying at home institutions.

"It may also be the case that the declining acceptance ratio for Scottish students - the ratio of acceptances to applications - is driven by the reduction in their effective ability to study outside Scotland."

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said institutions wanted to see cross-border flows of students in all directions.

She said: "We want to Scots to have the opportunity to study elsewhere in the UK just as we would encourage students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to study in Scotland.

"It is certainly a shame if policy changes elsewhere in the UK have deterred some Scottish students from studying in England. We strongly support the portability of student loans across the UK so that students have access to the financial support they need whilst studying. This helps to keep options open."

Vonnie Sandlan, president of NUS Scotland, said the squeeze was another example of the "huge mess" of England’s tuition fee system.

She added: "The eye watering level of fees and broken student support system in England are putting off part-time students and mature students. It now looks like they are also putting off Scottish students from making the most of their talent.

“Access to education should be based on your ability to learn, and no one should be left out because of money, geographical borders or nationality.

"Pushing Scottish students out of English lecture halls is a loss for Scotland, but also a loss for English universities who are looking to recruit the brightest students."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said Scotland offered "the highest overall package" of support for the poorest students living at home, which, combined with free tuition, contributed to keeping the average student debt incurred by students attending Scottish universities the lowest in the UK.

She added: "We welcomed figures from this month, based on the June application deadline, which showed a record number of Scots-domiciled students have applied to Higher Education Institutions in Scotland this year."

The commission report went on to suggest that tuition fees at some universities in England could reach £10,000 a year by 2020 and warned that the Westminster Government should be "extremely wary" of major increases or lifting the fee cap entirely.

The commission, which was set up in 2011 to monitor the impact of the new fee system on English universities, also calls for the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to launch an investigation into the current student loan system to examine whether it is providing value for money for undergraduates and the public purse.

Tuition fees were trebled to a maximum of £9,000 a year in 2012, with students starting to repay government loans once they are earning £21,000.

In his budget earlier this month, Chancellor George Osborne announced further reforms to the system, including allowing universities offering high quality teaching to increase their fees in line with inflation from 2017/18.

The commission calculates that, based on compound interest at three per cent from 2017/18, this move could mean that fees at some institutions reach £10,000 in five years time.

The report said: "The government should be extremely wary of substantive increases in fees or removing the cap on fees completely.

"Our concerns about the impact on students and the taxpayer (through loans) suggest extreme caution should be taken in placing any further strain on the loan system by any substantive increase in fees, or lifting the cap completely as some have suggested.

"Evidence to date shows that there has been no move to a real market in fees, but rather a clustering at the top end of allowable charges, with insufficient understanding of the long term effects of the debts incurred in this process."

However, the report noted there has been "no obvious detrimental change" in the numbers of school leavers going on to university after an initial slump.

But it goes on to say that there is still an "unacceptably high" gap between the numbers of disadvantaged sixth-formers going into higher education, especially selective institutions, and a widening gender gap between poorer students, with 14.7% of boys from the poorest neighbourhoods studying for a degree in 2014, compared to 21.8% of girls - a gulf of seven points, compared to five in 2010. It also raises concerns about significant drops in part-time and mature students, saying it believes that the new fee system is a major factor in the decline.