Universities ‘dragging their feet’ on pledge to curb elitism

St Andrews says its size precludes it from accepting more poorer students. Picture: Jane Barlow
St Andrews says its size precludes it from accepting more poorer students. Picture: Jane Barlow
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TWO of Scotland’s ancient universities have been accused of a “severe lack of ambition” in their attempts to widen access to the poorest students.

Figures released yesterday by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) show that while Glasgow University has created an additional 200 places for those from deprived backgrounds, Edinburgh and St Andrews will only create an additional 70 places between them in the next academic year.

The figures were revealed as the SFC published details of the £1.1 billion funding package universities will receive from the Scottish Government for 

The National Union of Students (NUS) has warned that many universities are still not doing enough to widen access.

Universities had been invited by the SFC to bid for funding that would be used to help create places for students from deprived areas.

Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University, said: “We believe that universities have a responsibility to make higher education accessible to people from the widest possible socio-economic spectrum. We are excited by the prospect of helping to recruit and retain more students who will benefit from the world-class education available at the University of Glasgow.”

Dundee University will create an additional 150 places to help widen access and Stirling 125, but Edinburgh – a university similar in size to Glasgow – will create just 50.

St Andrews, which is a much smaller university than Edinburgh and Glasgow in terms of overall student numbers, will create an additional 20 places.

Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said: “St Andrews and Edinburgh continue to demonstrate a severe lack of ambition for fair access and for their own institutions, particularly as they have the most to do.”

The widening access figures are part of about 2,000 additional places unveiled by the SFC on Tuesday for those from the poorest homes. The overall figure also includes places for college students looking to move on to higher education. Yesterday’s breakdown from the SFC shows Aberdeen University will create 75 places for widening access, while the figure at Strathclyde will be 40.

A spokesman for Edinburgh University said: “We are committed to playing our part in tackling the under-representation of students in higher education from the most deprived neighbourhoods.

“We recognise these neighbourhoods are predominantly in the west of Scotland, and that students from these areas are the least geographically mobile. For this reason, we have launched a new accommodation bursary scheme to make studying at Edinburgh a realistic choice for students from across Scotland.”

A spokeswoman for St Andrews added: “We are funded by the government to admit 500 Scottish students a year. Much as we would like to, we cannot exceed that total or we are fined.

“We are one of the smallest universities and account for less than 2 per cent of Scotland’s university capacity. We will be admitting more than 10 per cent of all qualified Scottish students from deprived backgrounds.”