Students from the poorest parts of Scotland remain under-represented in higher education, particularly the ancient universities, according to government figures.
Only 8 per cent of Scottish-based entrants at the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews came from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in 2015-16, Scottish Funding Council statistics have revealed.
Students from less affluent backgrounds were also less likely to enter small specialist institutions such as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow School of Art and Scotland’s Rural College. They made up just 11 per cent of their intake.
Newer institutions, such as the universities of Dundee and Stirling, had a rate of 12 per cent, the Open University 14 per cent and post-92 institutions, such as the University of Abertay Dundee and Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, 15 per cent.
Colleges fared best with the number of entrants from poorer backgrounds, with 23 per cent coming from the most deprived areas.
Overall, the percentage of Scottish-based entrants to higher education from the least affluent parts of the country was 16.1 per cent, up just 0.1 percentage points from 2014-15.
The Scottish government’s Commission on Widening Access wants students from the 20 per cent most deprived backgrounds to represent 20 per cent of entrants to higher education by 2030.
Vonnie Sandlan, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, said: “What this clearly illustrates is that work to secure a truly fair education system is not being shared by every institution — we continue to see the bulk of our widening access work being done by the same institutions, year on year.
“Previous NUS Scotland research revealed that national targets will be missed by decades if we continue at the current pace. These figures only serve to reinforce that warning.”
Shirley-Anne Somerville, the higher education minister, said: “I am encouraged to see more entrants from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland accessing higher education, although these figures show a variation between institutions still persists.
“I am in no doubt that through our continued focus on widening access to HE and our work with our higher education institutions, we will continue to see improvements going forward, ensuring that all of our young people get an equal chance to get a world-class education.”
A Universities Scotland spokesman said: “Scottish universities recognise the scale of the challenge facing them but it’s a challenge all 19 institutions are up for. We have acknowledged from the start that there are no silver bullets for widening access, but we know there is real progress being made and this will be reflected in the statistics in due course.”