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Record number of students from deprived areas at university, study finds

The report looked at access to higher and further education (Jane Barlow/PA)
The report looked at access to higher and further education (Jane Barlow/PA)

The number of Scottish students from deprived areas starting at university in Scotland reached an all-time high last year, new figures show.

A Scottish Funding Council report found that 16.7% of Scottish domiciled full-time first degree students at Scottish universities in 2020-21 were from the 20% most deprived areas in the country.

This was up from 16.4% in 2019-20, representing an additional 545 students, and the highest ever level.

There was also an increase in the number of care-experienced Scottish-domiciled students entering undergraduate courses last year.

Care-experienced students at Scotland’s colleges and universities accounted for 1.9% of Scottish-domiciled entrants to undergraduate courses in 2020-21, up from 1.7% in 2019-20.

This represented an increase of 215 students.

There was also a rise in the number of students who are care experienced or from a deprived background returning for their second year.

Higher Education Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “By 2030, we want 20% of students entering higher education to come from Scotland’s most deprived backgrounds.

“These statistics show another step towards that, with a record number of Scottish students from deprived areas enrolling in university for the first time.

“This highlights the fact that Scotland continues to be an attractive place to study and live for prospective students.

“The Commissioner for Fair Access has previously said that Scotland is ‘setting the pace’ in the UK in widening participation.

“We believe every young person should have the opportunity to reach their full potential, no matter their circumstances.”

In 2020-21, 10.6% of Scottish-domiciled entrants to full-time first-degree courses at university were of black and minority ethnicity, up slightly from the 2019-20 figure of 9.8%.

The report found that in 2020-21, 40.9% of Scottish-domiciled full-time first-degree entrants from the 20% most deprived areas progressed from a college course.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “The report shows that equality of access is being achieved in the tertiary education sector for those living in Scotland’s most deprived communities which is encouraging.

“Scotland’s colleges make a substantial contribution to tertiary education, recruiting over 25% of Scottish-domiciled entrants to higher education courses from the 20% most deprived areas.

“In 2020-21, 41% of full-time first-degree entrants from the 20% most deprived areas progressed to university after graduating from college.

“The report also highlights the growing number of care-experienced students and those who are combining study with caring responsibilities.

“57% of students with caring responsibilities are aged 25 or over.

“Again, this shows that colleges are continuing to make an impact and give people of all ages and backgrounds opportunities to improve their life chances and career prospects.”