Parents of straight A pupils rejected by the country’s top universities have vented at the First Minister for allowing Scots to be discriminated against.
Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney have been sent dozens of letters on the “national shame” of talented youngsters being denied a Scottish higher education in favour of English and foreign candidates.
A senior teacher told Ms Sturgeon that her son, who scored five As in his Highers, had “his dream shattered” when he was rejected by St Andrews, which is restricted to how many Scots it can accept onto its courses.
“Much of the reason for his rejection is a direct consequence of your funding system and cap which is making it harder and harder for Scots to achieve a place at a Scottish university,” the parent told Ms Sturgeon.
“We personally know of two young people in that position with five As and it’s heart-breaking. What message are we giving these students?”
The mum said the Scottish cap – as well as diversity targets – means the selection process is “disadvantaging high-achieving, middle class Scots”.
Her son is attending university in England and warning of a brain drain she added: “Many of them will not return and take their talents and skills elsewhere.”
The Scottish Government’s free tuition policy includes a quota on the number of domestic students universities here can accept.
There is no limit on how many students they can take from fee-paying countries, including England and non-EU countries.
University chiefs privately admit they want more Scots on their roll but say “our hands are completely tied”.
A parent of a teenager wanting to study medicine at universities including St Andrews and Dundee believe her rejections are because of the cap.
She says her daughter will not apply for medicine again despite dedicating her school career to the cause.
“In a country crying out for doctors, this seems such a wasted opportunity for everyone,” the parent said.
Universities Scotland said they understand the frustration but added institutions “can only recruit to fill the places available”.
The SNP administration, which pays for undergraduate degrees for Scots and EU-domiciled students, imposes the cap to keep control of costs.
Former First Minister Alex Salmond locked his successor into the policy when he unveiled a stone inscribed with the promise: “Rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said that under the free tuition policy a record number of Scots, including those from deprived areas, have won a place at university.
“Our commitment to free tuition means that, unlike elsewhere in the UK, Scottish students studying in Scotland do not incur additional debt of up to £27,000 and average student loan debt is the lowest in the UK,” the spokesman added.
“We’re investing a record amount in student support which has meant thousands more qualifying for a bursary or increased funding.”
St Andrews University has said: “Restricted numbers have always been a consequence of the current Scottish system, but we are committed to work with the Scottish Government on a shared objective of ensuring that as many bright young Scots as possible are able to benefit from a university education.”