The SNP policy of free university tuition for Scottish students has been "vindicated", according to the country's Commissioner for Fair Access.

Writing in The Herald, Professor Sir Peter Scott said an increase in the number of poor students at university proved the policy was working.

Sir Peter went on to issue a warning over the charging of tuition fees of more than £9,000 in England, saying the system there was “collapsing”.

Last week, it emerged that record numbers of students from Scotland’s poorest backgrounds have secured a place at university.

Statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed 15.6 per cent of entrants to Scottish universities in 2017/18 were from the most deprived areas.

The Scottish Government has set a target for the sector of having 16 per cent by 2021 and 20 per cent by 2030.

Sir Peter said: “What makes the latest figures particularly encouraging is that they follow three years when there was little improvement in the proportion of full-time first degree students from the most deprived areas.

“This led some critics of the Government’s red-line policy of free higher education to argue that England was doing more for fair access despite charging students high fees.

“The latest figures vindicate Scotland’s policy of free higher education, which of course has other aims apart from making universities more socially inclusive - not least the commitment that higher education should be seen as a public good from which society as a whole benefits.”

Sir Peter said the English policy of “high fees, mitigated by bursaries for poorer students”, was now collapsing.

He added: “It is so expensive, not just for students who graduate with tens of thousands of pounds of debt, but also for taxpayers who have to fund student loans in the first place, many of which will never be paid back.”

Richard Lochhead, the Higher Education Minister said the statistics highlighted the good progress being made on widening access to higher education.

He said: “I’m pleased to see more Scots going to university and a record increase from our most deprived areas.”

“This shows demonstrable progress towards giving every young person in Scotland an equal chance of success, no matter their background.”

Agenda page 15