University application rates from 18-year-olds from the poorest parts of Scotland have dropped for the first time in a decade, a new report has revealed.
New data from the universities admissions body Ucas also showed the application rate for those in the most affluent communities had increased “widening the gap between the most and least”.
Higher education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville conceded there is “more work to do” to increase the number of Scots from deprived backgrounds who want to go on to higher education.
But Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the fall was “particularly worrying”. She spoke out after new figures from Ucas showing a decrease in 2018, to 16.7%. This was the first decrease seen since 2008.
The report stated: “The application rate for applicants living in the most advantaged areas in Scotland increased by 1.9%, widening the gap between the most and least.”
The figures also showed a 1% rise in the total number of applications to Scottish universities, with a 1% decrease in the overall number applying to UK institutions.
There was also a 1% rise in Scots bidding to study at a Scottish university, and a 13% increase in applications to Scotland from international students from outside of the European Union.
Ms Somerville said: “While it is good to see Scotland’s universities outperforming those across the UK, it is also vitally important that we continue to drive forward our ambition to widen access to university for people from our most deprived communities.
“In 2017, we saw a 13% increase in the number of people from the most deprived communities getting places to study at university. Today’s application rate shows that there is more work to do if we are to see a similar increase in 2018.”
Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “These figures show again that major action is needed by the Scottish Government to widen access to our universities.
“We know that young people from the most privileged backgrounds are three times more likely to go to onto higher education than those from the most disadvantaged, and these figures show a complete failure to narrow that gap.
“It is time the Scottish Government took action where it’s needed to help the poorest students and offer them the financial support they need.”