Legislation aimed at reforming further and higher education is a crucial part of the generational change required to widen access to universities, the Education Secretary has said.
Michael Russell highlighted the latest figures on access to university education ahead of the third and final stage of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood later today.
Current statistics show 11% of young people from areas of deprivation study at university.
Mr Russell said work with universities, government investment and widening access agreements could see a further 16,000 people from deprived areas gain degrees.
Universities have already agreed to open 727 places for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, backed with almost £40 million for the year 2013-14.
He said: “To deliver truly equal access we need to start a generational change. We will work with universities and others to provide support to young people from deprived areas so they are ready to take up extra places delivered through significant government investment and widening access agreements.
“This change could see an additional 16,000 young people, who would not otherwise have been able to, graduate from our universities in years to come. This is the right thing to do for our education system, for our young people and for our economy and that is why the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill is a crucial piece of legislation.”
As well as putting widening access agreements on a statutory basis, the Bill includes measures for regionalisation in the college sector, changes to governance structures, and limits for university tuition fees.
It has been widely criticised by opposition parties, who urged the Government to withdraw the legislation at the second stage.
Labour’s Neil Findlay said the Bill was a “badly drafted, ill-defined, clumsy and a confused piece of legislation”.