Scotland's universities have come under fire after it emerged that the number of students being admitted from deprived backgrounds has slumped, despite calls to widen access.
The Scottish Government says it shows that "nothing had changed" when universities were tasked with ensuring more youngsters from poorer areas get in to study.
Ministers want to ensure that students from the 20% most deprived backgrounds represent 20% of those entering university by 2030, with an interim target of 16% in three years.
But it has emerged that just 13.8% of Scottish students at universities were from the most deprived backgrounds in 2016/17 - down 0.2% or 50 students in total.
Read more: capped places make university access harder
Universities minister Shirley Ann Somerville said: "These figures are a stark reminder of why this Government was right to take the action we did on widening access.
“They show that in the four years up to 2016-17 nothing had changed and, on their own, universities were not making improvement in increasing the percentage of students from the 20% most deprived areas."
Since the latest tranche of entrants, ministers say a series of measures have come into force after a flagship report on widening access which aim to get more youngsters from poorer backgrounds in to study.
Ms Somerville said the latest figures provide a baseline from which to "judge how successfully" the Commission’s recommendations will be implemented.
Read more: Universities to widen access for students from deprived areas
Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland said the figures were "disappointing."
he added; There’s a time lag on the data and the Funding Council repeatedly makes the point that today’s figures reflect practice before universities responded to challenges from the Commission on Widening Access.
“One key problem is that we are measuring the wrong thing if we want to know how many people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university. We know that more than half of young people entitled free school meals do not live in an area classified as SIMD20. We need a more robust way of tracking the progress made widening access to those affected by socio-economic deprivation. We’re pleased that Scottish Government have now recognised the case for using wider measures."