THE share of first-year dental school places given to international students has increased nearly five-fold in seven years in Glasgow, amid warnings that a decline in the number of Scottish students being trained could trigger a future recruitment crisis.

Figures obtained by the Herald reveal a steady increase in the number of overseas students admitted to Glasgow Dental School, while the percentage of places allocated to Scottish-domiciled students has fallen.

Of the 78 students due to begin studying dentistry there next month, 52 - 67% - are Scottish, down from 85% in 2012.

Over the same period, the share of overseas students among the intake has increased from 3% to 14%.

A similar pattern has also been seen at Scotland's other major undergraduate facility, Dundee Dental School, where the proportion of Scottish undergraduates among the first-year intake has reduced from a peak of 80% in 2012 to 63% in 2017 - although it has been as low as 40% at times, in 2010 and 2014.

The percentage of international students also went from 8% in 2012 14% in 2017, but peaked at 19% in 2015. Figures for 2018 were unavailable.

This mirrors the trend seen with medical school intakes, where the share of Scottish undergraduates studying to be doctors has fallen from 63% to 51% since 1999.

A spokesman for the British Dental Association (BDA) said: "The Glasgow University figures show a worrying steady decline in the proportion of Scottish dental students in the past five years.

"Scottish students are more likely to remain in Scotland and work in the NHS, therefore the University and the Scottish Government must ensure that Scottish applicants are not being disadvantaged compared with applicants from elsewhere in gaining a place to study dentistry at Glasgow."

Although dental students in receipt of a bursary are required to work in the NHS for one to five years after qualifying, depending on the amount of money they were given, most new dentists are free to leave Scotland as soon as their training is complete.

The number of places available to Scottish and non-UK EU students is capped and funded by the Scottish Government, based on projections of future workforce needs.

While Scottish and EU students do not pay tuition fees out of their own pocket, universities are reimbursed instead by the Scottish Government - at a current rate of £1850 per year.

In comparison, Glasgow Dental School charges overseas students £39,500 a year in tuition, adding up to a total bill of £197,500 over the five-year degree.

At Dundee Dental School, an international student will pay even more - £203,300 over the five years.

This has previously led to accusations that foreign students are used as "cash cows" to prop up university courses and sustain the Scottish Government's free tuition policy.

The actual number of international dental students at Glasgow has increased steadily over the past decade, from three to 11, while the total number of places has declined from 95 to 78.

At Dundee, the overseas intake climbed from fewer than five in 2007 to a peak of 24 in 2014, before declining back to eight in 2017.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “This is a similar situation to the declining number of Scots being accepted to study medicine.

“Because of SNP government policy, universities are being forced to take in more international students who pay fees for financial reasons.

“That means Scots are being squeezed out of their own universities.

“That’s not only harmful to their aspirations, but the future of the NHS, for whom international students are less likely to stay on and work after graduating.”

Labour Health spokesman Anas Sarwar, a former dentist, added: "This is an example of how the SNP government bungle workforce planning for our health service.

"Earlier this summer, Labour said that the SNP government should review the cap on student places with a view to raising it."

A spokesman for Dundee University said it was not true that Scottish students were "squeezed out" in favour of more lucrative foreign recruits.

He said: “The number of places on offer to Scottish and EU students is capped and funded by the Scottish Government on the basis of future workforce planning.

"We are also permitted to recruit a limited number of international and rUK candidates but these places have no impact on the number of Scottish students studying Dentistry here.”

A spokeswoman for Glasgow University said they could not comment as its Scottish and EU intakes were set by ministers.

Free tuition for EU students predates Brexit, when EU students were automatically entitled to live and work in Scotland. Around one in 10 of Scotland's dentists are from the EU and the BDA reported in April this year that UK dental practices are struggling to fill vacancies amid uncertainty over future visa rules.

The number of registered NHS dentists in Scotland dropped from 3670 to 3647 between 2016 and 2017, the first fall in five years and only the second year-on-year in 18 years.

A UK-wide BDA survey in 2017 also revealed that 58% of NHS dentists were considering leaving the profession within the next five years, and a third of members over the age of 55 were planning early retirement.