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Drop-out rate for poorer students too high, Scottish universities told

Scotland’s leading universities have been accused of failing their poorest students after new figures showed those from the most deprived backgrounds are more likely to drop out depending on where they study.

The worrying statistics show universities including Aberdeen, Glasgow and St Andrews all have a large gap between the drop-out rate of the main student body and those from poorer backgrounds.

While the retention rate at St Andrews is over 96 per cent for all students, it falls to 85 per cent for poorer undergraduates.

At Aberdeen, the retention rate for the poorest students is 83 per cent, compared with 92 per cent overall.

In contrast, the gap is much smaller at Edinburgh University, where 94 per cent of students, and 91 per cent from the poorest backgrounds continue studying past their first year.

The figures, which compare overall student numbers with those from the poorest 20 per cent according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), were obtained by the National Union of Students (NUS) through a Freedom of Information request.

Robin Parker, NUS Scotland president, said: “Clearly, some universities have found successful ways to recruit students from deprived backgrounds and to keep them, and the sector must learn from them.

“It’s bad enough that some universities are not recruiting sufficient numbers of people from poorer backgrounds, but the double whammy is that even for those that make it on to campus from our poorest communities, many are not getting the support to stay through to the end of their degree.”

Figures released last week showed Scotland’s elite universities are taking on tiny numbers of students from deprived backgrounds, despite repeated calls to widen access.

A Scottish 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.

“But we are determined to do better and will introduce statutory widening access agreements – including retention rates – in forthcoming legislation.”

A spokesman for St Andrews added: “At approximately 96 per cent, our overall retention rate is amongst the best in the UK. We work hard to support students, particularly those whose backgrounds can make higher education more challenging.

“The suggestion that there is a ‘gap’ in the way institutions support students is offensive. The real issue is the vanishingly small number of young people from deprived backgrounds who ever get the chance to consider higher education as an option.”

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