Scotland’s universities under fire over access


Scottish universities are the “worst on access in the UK”, a student leader said, after figures showed two of the country’s most prestigious universities admitted fewer undergraduates from deprived backgrounds.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) said 9.7 per cent of total first-year entrants throughout the country in 2012/13 were from the poorest areas, a rise from 9.1 per cent on the year before.

However, Edinburgh and Aberdeen universities took in a smaller proportion of undergraduates from the poorest 20 or 40 per cent of postcodes – as defined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) – despite major efforts by the Scottish government to widen access, including one agreement linking it to future funding.

According to the SFC figures, 9.7 per cent of all Scots entrants under-21 were from “SIMD 20” postcode areas and 23.2 per cent from “SIMD 40”, a slight rise on 22.5 per cent the year before.

But whereas several newer universities raised participation, at some of Scotland’s “ancient” universities it was either unchanged or even dropped. Edinburgh admitted a lower proportion of young people from both groups in 2012/13, while Aberdeen let in the same percentage of those from SIMD 20 homes as the year before but fewer from SIMD 40 homes.

Glasgow and St Andrews, the other “ancients”, raised the percentage of students from both groups.

Gordon Maloney, president of the National Union of Students in Scotland, said: “While any increase in the numbers of students from deprived communities should be welcomed, the reality is that these figures show little progress on previous years. We know universities can’t do it all on fair access but they can, and must, do more than this. Scotland remains the worst on access in the whole UK.”

The SFC said students from the poorest areas were still over-represented in Scotland’s colleges – at 22.8 per cent – but under-represented in universities. They accounted for only 8.2 per cent of the intake in ancient universities.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said all universities were “deeply committed” to widening access to all students.

“It’s important to remember that this increase (to 9.7 per cent) comes a year before additional access places created by the Scottish government come into effect. We can expect to see a step-change in next year’s data.”



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