Number of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds to Scottish universities drops

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Wallis Spence
Deputy News Editor

Scottish universities are witnessing a decline in the number of applications from students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

11 of the 18 institutions of higher education in Scotland witnessed a drop in numbers of disadvantaged undergraduate students under the age of 21 in the academic year of 2015-16.

The Scottish Government stated that they aim to raise this percentage by making it easier for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to university and access a place. The Commission on Widening Access stated: “by 2030 students from the 20% most deprived backgrounds should represent 20% of entrants to higher education.”

However, the overall percentage of young students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Scottish universities has dropped from 10.8% to 10.4%. Universities that have seen a similar decline in numbers include Glasgow University, Glasgow School of Art, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian Universities are in the small percentage that saw an increase in numbers.

Vonnie Sandlan, the president of NUS Scotland, stated: “After the marginal increase seen last year we’ve fallen right back to where we were, with an equal decrease this year.

“Education is a transformative experience and the responsibility to ensure that it’s in reach for every child in Scotland, with the potential to succeed, is incumbent on us all, but these regressive figures suggest that’s far from the reality, and those young people are still being left behind.”

Alastair Sim, the director of Universities Scotland, stated that the sector was developing improvements to make it easier for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access university places, with methods such as lowering the entry requirements. He stated: “The data on university entrants from the most deprived backgrounds follows a drop in 2015 in the number of students from the most deprived backgrounds who applied to university. This has to change if we are to see meaningful progress.

“The good news is that the drop in applicants appears to be a blip and the numbers applying to university from poorer areas has grown since then and universities will do all they can to encourage ambition, to support attainment and to recognise potential to give students much-deserved opportunities.”

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland Official, said: “It is deeply disappointing that again there’s no improvement in the Scottish widening access figures and particularly worrying to see a fall in the numbers of students from poorer backgrounds in half of Scottish universities.”

John Kemp, interim chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), stated: “The data makes clear there remains a lot to be done and it will be a top priority for us to work with the new Commissioner for Widening Access, the Scottish Government and with every university in Scotland to use these figures in guiding what we need to do next.”