St Andrews University takes only 13 students from poor backgrounds

LEADING Scottish universities have been criticised after figures revealed that some institutions were recruiting tiny numbers of students from poorer backgrounds.

Student leaders described the records of three of Scotland’s four ancient universities as “truly awful” after it emerged they typically recruit fewer than 100 students from deprived backgrounds.

The figures were compiled using the government’s Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

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Students are classed as being from a poorer background if they are born in a postcode district that is among the least affluent 20 per cent.

St Andrews University recruited just 13 Scots last year from those areas among its 7,370 undergraduates – leaving the institution with the lowest number among the four ancient universities. It equates to just one in 570 students.

Aberdeen University’s 51 students represented 3.1 per cent of its Scottish intake last year, while Edinburgh’s 91 amounted to 5 per cent its admissions.

However, Scotland’s fourth ancient university, Glasgow, recorded higher figures, as it admitted 303 students from the most deprived backgrounds, more than 10 per cent.

Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said that the figures should act as a “wake-up call”.

He said: “These statistics are shocking. For an institution like St Andrews to take 13 students from the poorest backgrounds last year shows just how far we have to go.

“University places should be given to those that have the most talent and potential. Unless institutions do more to widen access, they’re missing out on some of those with the most potential that could get the best degrees and, quite frankly, not doing their job properly.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who sits on the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, said: “More needs to be done to widen access to those from the most deprived backgrounds.”

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The NUS said the figures come at the same time as universities are negotiating agreements on widening access with the Scottish Funding Council.

However, Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, which represents Scotland’s higher education institutions, defended the records of the institutions.

He said: “We are dealing with major systemic problems. If you look at the attainment of five-year-olds, you find some shocking differences according to whether they’re from a challenged background or not.”

The University of St Andrews said that for every three offers it makes to students from deprived backgrounds in Scotland, only one accepts, despite “significant” levels of scholarship support.

A University of Aberdeen spokeswoman said: “These figures are for a particular subset of our student population, namely students from Scotland who are entering full-time courses.”

The University of Edinburgh also said ”widening access to education has long been a priority for the university.”

The Scottish Government insisted that it had “invested record amounts of funding in higher education” as it highlighted the administration’s commitment to free tuition for Scottish students.

A government spokesman said: “We have seen a welcome increase in participation rates in higher education in recent years, including a narrowing of the gap between the proportion of students from the most and least deprived areas.”