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Scottish universities more elitist than rest of UK


By Rhiannon Williams

Scotland’s universities are continuing to lag behind that elsewhere in the UK for the number of students admitted from deprived backgrounds, according to new figures.

Details released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show 26.6 per cent of full-time undergraduates studying in Scotland in 2011-12 came from the poorest homes, compared with 30.7 per cent across the UK as a whole. A total of 87.9 per cent of students in Scotland came from state schools, compared to the UK average of 88.9 per cent.

However, the figures relate to the year that “outcome agreements” were made between universities and the Scottish Government and so do not take account of any progress made or additional places that will be created in 2013-14 to widen access.

Last year, every university in Scotland agreed to “contextualise” new entrants, taking into account a candidate’s background rather than simply refusing a place based on their academic record, opening up places to less privileged students.

Education secretary Mike Russell said the statistics proved that legislation was required to widen access for disadvantaged students, and called for the Scottish Parliament to support the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill.

He said: “We have already added places for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, through an investment of £10 million in 2,000 extra places for 2013-14, including over 700 targeted at widening access schemes, and we will continue to work with universities.

“We have already taken action to ensure university access is based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

“On top of this, the best package of student support in the UK will come into force this year, ensuring students from the poorest families receive an income of at least £7,250 a year.”

Separate figures from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) showed just 9.1 per cent of students in Scotland came from the poorest 20 per cent of homes in 2011-12 as defined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), the same rate as the previous year. The percentage of students from the poorest 40 per cent of areas in Scotland actually decreased during 2011-12, falling to 22.5 per cent, or 0.4 per cent from 22.9 per cent in 2010-11.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “It’s unfortunate that the time lag on the data means that these figures don’t yet reflect the big step-up to widen access that universities have taken over the last year.

“Every university is committed to doing so and has signed up to an outcome agreement including goals for progress.”

NUS Scotland has echoed Mr Russell’s call for greater action on fairer access, and urged the Scottish Parliament to support legislation to achieve it.

Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said: “It’s really disappointing that we’re seeing fair access in Scotland stall and, in some ways, actually go backwards.

“While these figures are for 2011-12, they still show what happens if our parliament, our institutions and the country as a whole do nothing more to tackle this issue.

“Since then, we’ve seen the introduction of local agreements on fair access, big improvements to student support and the creation of additional places for widening access and articulation, and so we want to see steady improvements in next year’s figures.” 

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