THE SNP's policy of free higher education in Scotland has been praised by the country's Commissioner for Fair Access.

Writing in The National's sister paper, The Herald, Professor Sir Peter Scott said a rise in the number of poor students at university proved the policy is "vindicated".

Sir Scott then issued a warning over the charging of tuition fees of more than £9000 in England, describing the “collapsing” system there.

Sir Scott spoke as it was revealed last week that record numbers of students from Scotland’s poorest backgrounds have secured a place at university.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed 15.6% 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% by 2021 and 20% by 2030.

Sir Scott 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 Scott 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.”

Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead also praised the SNP's policy.

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.”