Byline: ANDREW BEAVEN
SCOTLAND'S oldest universities are facing a sharp downturn in the number of applications from prospective students.
Official figures published yesterday show Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St Andrews have suffered a decline in student applications from the UK and overseas.
Last night politicians, educationalists and the universities themselves blamed the Government for introducing tuition fees.
Some warned that the country's most highly respected universities could face a student recruiting crisis.
The scare was triggered by the latest statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the Government-funded organisation which co-ordinates higher education admissions across the UK.
Figures reveal 13 of Scotland's 15 UCAS registered higher education institutions - including Scotland's four 'ancient' universities - suffered a marked decline in applications compared with last year.
Aberdeen University was 5.1 per cent down, with Edinburgh down 5.4 per cent.
Glasgow dropped seven per cent while St Andrews fell 8.1 per cent.
The figures show the total number of applications processed by April 16 this year as compared with the percentage at the same time last year.
Last night Dr Ronald Crawford, secretary for the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, said: 'If the decline shown in these figures turns out to be a general trend - meaning less students signing up for Scottish universities - it is bad news.' Universities blamed the Government's abolition of student grants and the introduction of tuition fees. Officials at St Andrews said the cost of sitting a degree deterred many students.
A spokesman said: 'Students are aware of the government's changes in student support.' Dr Christine Kay, assistant admissions secretary at Aberdeen University said: 'There has been a fairly large drop in the number of overseas students in the wake of the recent economic crisis in the Far East.
'There has also been a slight decline in the number of applications from across the UK.' The government's policies, she explained, were having a definite effect. …