The gap between the number of university students in Scotland from the richest and poorest backgrounds has shrunk, new figures have shown.
According to a report from the Scottish Funding Council, the proportion of Scottish-domiciled students starting undergraduate degrees from the most deprived areas of the country in 2021-22 was 16.6%, compared to 13.6% in 2013-14.
The number of those from the most well-off places was 24.3%, down from 26.4%.
The total number of Scottish-domiciled students beginning degrees increased substantially during the same time period, from 37,835 to 43,380.
However, the gap in retention rates – the number of students who continued beyond their first year of study – increased during the same period, according to the statistics.
The proportion of those from the poorest areas continuing beyond their first year dropped slightly from 87.6% to 87.5% while the number of those from the most affluent areas increased from 92.2% to 93.4%.
Education secretary Jenny Gilruth welcomed the figures, saying: “Widening access is a top priority for the Scottish Government and I am delighted to see a record number of first-time students from the most deprived areas in Scotland securing a place at university.
“This report shows there were 5,595 Scottish domiciled full-time first-degree entrants to higher education from the country’s 20% most deprived areas – the highest figure on record, representing a 41% increase since the establishment of the Commission on Widening Access in 2016.
“With 16.5% of entrants coming from our most deprived communities, this means that, even with a small decrease in the proportion, we continue to outperform the interim target of 16%.
“I am encouraged by the progress we have made in partnership with Scotland’s universities so far and I am determined to go further.
“The principle that access to education should be based on the ability to learn is central to the Scottish Government and we will continue to support people to reach their full potential, regardless of their economic background.
“Scotland’s internationally-renowned universities are among our greatest assets – and every child growing up here should have an equal chance of benefiting from that.
“I will work with Scotland’s universities and the Commissioner for Fair Access to drive forward further progress – ensuring that even more young people in Scotland have the opportunity to benefit from a university education.”