Fewer students from poor areas going to university, figures show

Latest figures show a decline in the number of students from deprived areas at Scottish universities. Picture: Jane Barlow
Latest figures show a decline in the number of students from deprived areas at Scottish universities. Picture: Jane Barlow
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New figures released by the Scottish Funding Council have shown a 0.4 per cent decrease in the number of full-time, young university entrants from the 20 per cent most disadvantaged communities in 2015-16.

The figures come despite the Scotish Government’s committment to their flagship policy of raising attainment among Scotland’s most deprived communities and making it easier for pupils from poorer backgrounds to gain access to university places.

The drop follows a slight increase for 2014-15 and takes the figure back to the same levels it was at two years ago – with the overall percentage of new entrants from the most disadvantaged communities making up 10.4 per cent of the total entry-level student population.

That decrease comes despite the Commission on Widening Access recommending “by 2030 students from the 20 per cent most deprived backgrounds should represent 20 per cent of entrants to higher education”, with an interim target of 15.5 per cent by 2019-20.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has warned that without much more immediate, bold and ambitious action, those targets will be missed by decades, and is calling for the necessary investment, from universities, colleges and government, to ensure they are met. 

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland’s president said: “These are incredibly disappointing figures, and show just how far we still have to go to secure our ambitions on fair access.

“After the marginal increase seen last year we’ve fallen right back to where we were, with an equal decrease this year. Education is a transformative experience, and the responsibility to ensure that it’s in reach for every child in Scotland, with the potential to succeed, is incumbent on us all – but these regressive figures suggest that’s far from the reality, and those young people are still being left behind.”

The University of Aberdeen has the lowest percentage of students from poorer backgrounds at 3 per cent while Glasgow Caledonian University has the highest percentage with 17 per cent of full-time, young entrants coming from the most disadvantaged communities.

Scottish Government minister for further education, higher education and science Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “The initial UCAS applicant figures for 2017 show that, in the face of a general decline in applicants to universities across the UK, the number of applicants to Scottish institutions has remained broadly steady. The figures also show that the proportion of 18 year-olds applying to universities from Scotland’s most deprived communities for next year has increased slightly, and is up by 7 percentage points since 2006.

“This is welcome, but the SFC statistics show that the entry rate into universities from the most deprived areas among young people during 2015-16 fell back slightly. We know we have work to do on widening access, and since this cohort applied to university we have committed to implementing the recommendations from the Commission on Widening Access and appointed our fair access commissioner, Professor Peter Scott, to drive this agenda.