War of words over poorer Scots’ access to universities

The SNP dispute Tory claims that poorer Scots are less likely to go to university than their English counterparts. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
The SNP dispute Tory claims that poorer Scots are less likely to go to university than their English counterparts. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
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A row erupted last night over claims that Scottish school leavers from the most deprived areas are less likely to make it to university than their English counterparts.

The Scottish Conservatives used Ucas figures to suggest that the proportion of Scottish pupils from the poorest areas getting into university is behind the equivalent figure for England.

Last night the Scottish Government disputed claim, saying the Conservatives had failed to compare like with like and the true situation was that poorer pupils were doing better.

As school leavers south of the Border received their exam results, the Tories looked at Ucas figures showing that 16.5 per cent of those securing a place at university were from the from least wealthy 20 per cent of English areas.

They compared the statistic with Ucas data suggesting the Scottish figure was 11.9 per cent.

The Tories claimed their reading of the figures challenged Nicola Sturgeon’s credentials when it came to closing the attainment gap, which sees richer children outperform their poorer counterparts academically.

The Conservatives claimed the figures called into question the Scottish Government’s free tuition policy amid growing suspicions it benefits middle class children more than deprived children. This week former SNP minister Kenny MacAskill added his voice to those questioning whether free tuition is sustainable.

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: “These figures show clearly that it’s much easier for a pupil from a deprived background in England to get to university than it is in Scotland.

“The SNP has had more than a decade to address this, but it has failed. This SNP government now owes generations of disadvantaged youngsters an explanation – why are their contemporaries south of the Border significantly more likely to get to university?

“This also blows a hole in the SNP’s policy of universal free tuition. It blatantly is not working, is harming universities financially and – as Kenny MacAskill has now admitted – is reducing opportunity for those who need it the most.”

Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Nicola Sturgeon promised that every child, regardless of their background, would have an equal chance of going to university, but that simply isn’t happening.”

But the Scottish Government higher education minister Shirley Anne Sommerville said: “These Tory claims are totally misleading – as UCAS themselves note, Scottish and English figures they use are not directly comparable. Not for the first time, the Tories are deliberately comparing apples and pears in an attempt to talk down Scottish education.”