SCOTLAND’S Universities Minister has labelled plans by the UK Government to cap the number of English students attending institutions north of the border as “completely unnecessary” and “deeply disappointing”. 

The UK Government is set to cap the number of undergraduates each English university can sign up in the next academic year – meaning institutions will be limited to an increase of 6.5 per cent in the number of students, to stop students being poached by rival universities. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Scotland's universities set for 'phased campus return' after summer

It is understood that the UK Government wants to place the same rules on Scottish universities, despite higher education being devolved to the Scottish Government. 

Scottish Government Universities Minister Richard Lochhead said: “In the face of huge uncertainty, Scottish universities and colleges are working to continue to deliver world class and safe learning and teaching. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus - what now: call for universities to rethink what degrees really matter

“The UK Government’s plan to restrict the number of English students that can come to Scotland, a plan which neither the Scottish Government nor Universities Scotland have agreed to, is deeply disappointing. 

“Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland have also objected. It is completely unnecessary and could add further damage to the sector, given that around 10 per cent of current enrolments are from England. 

“The UK Government should be working with the devolved administrations to support higher education at a time of crisis, not imposing, without agreement, targets and sanctions which are aimed at stabilising the English market and are not relevant to Scotland.” 

READ MORE: Thousands of former teachers asked to help implement ‘blended’ schooling

Labour has called for a re-think, warning that the proposals could further hit cash-strapped universities in Scotland that are already facing deficits totaling hundreds of millions of pounds amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, Iain Gray, said: “Scotland’s universities have an excellent reputation, and it is unsurprising that so many students from around the UK and the rest of the world choose to study here. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Tuition fees for Scots students 'not an option' as universities face £700m hole

“Diversity within our student population is something to be celebrated, and the financial boost to universities from students arriving from outside Scotland cannot be underestimated. 

“Putting a cap on the number of students who can move north of the border for university education must be rethought and is not a decision that should be taken unilaterally.”  

He added: “Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh universities will suffer if Westminster does not reconsider its position. 

“The Scottish Government must make sure it has a seat at the table and a voice in any further discussions about the future of Scottish universities.”