Applications to Scottish Universities from people living in Scotland have fallen 10 per cent since last year.
The figures, released by UCAS, also show a drop of 15.4 per cent of applicants from Scotland to English universities and a 4.5 per cent drop in English applicants to Scottish universities.
The decline comes despite the fact that Scottish students will remain exempt from tuition costs, but experts have said the figures could be the result of confusion over the new fees system. Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said:
“This set of applicant figures was always going to be volatile because of all the changes to fees north and south of the Border.
“However, it’s very early in the applications cycle and far too early to tell anything about student demand with any certainty."
The figures were published after the closing date for applications to Oxford and Cambridge. The figures are expected to increase by the closing date for the majority of universities in the UK in January next year. Mr Sim added:
“About the only thing that is clear from this data is that prospective students are choosing to weigh up their decisions more carefully and apply later in the cycle. That’s perfectly reasonable given all the changes and the fact that many Scottish universities only set out their fee intentions for students from the rest of the UK a few weeks ago.”
Robin Parker, President of the NUS, has blamed the figures on the introduction of new policies on tuition fees:
“We have real concern that these figures show that the confusion and fear of fees created by Westminster’s damaging fees policy is having an impact on people in Scotland’s decisions, even though the Scottish Government has rightly decided to not introduce fees.
“We just hope that it’s more that people are putting off applying, rather than being put off from going to university.
“It is a great shame, and no real surprise, if £9,000 fees are shutting down the opportunities for Scots to study in England.”
Ken Macintosh, MSP, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, also criticised the new system:
“There is a real need for much more detailed information to be supplied to those thinking of going to university. Just saying there are no tuition fees in Scotland is not enough as there are all sorts of other costs associated with going away from home to study."
He went on to blame the coalition government for their decision to lift the cap on tuition fees, saying doing so "closed off the opportunity" for Scottish students wanting to go to an English university.
Despite the national decline, interest from overseas applicants has risen. Applicants from non-EU countries to Scottish Universities were up 18.3 per cent on last year and applicants from other EU countries were up 3.1 per cent.