The Scottish Government has been accused of “betraying” the country’s poorest students as the university access attainment gap has widened, figures show.
A report from admissions service Ucas revealed the difference between the most and least deprived pupils being accepted into university has increased by 50% since 2018 – from 6.1 percentage points to 9.2 in 2022.
While the number of applicants from the most deprived backgrounds in Scotland increased by 0.1% from 69% in 2018, more students from the most affluent areas were accepted.
Some 78.3% of students from the least deprived areas were accepted into university in 2022, up from 75.1% five years ago.
The number of accepted applicants from the most deprived areas increased each year to 5,785 in 2022.
Stephen Kerr, the Scottish Conservative education spokesman, has accused the First Minister of failing on her pledge to close the attainment gap.
He said: “Nothing sums up the SNP’s abysmal education record more than their utter failure to eradicate the attainment gap.”
He said that since Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge to eliminate the attainment gap, progress has regressed, adding: “We’ve witnessed the SNP’s repeated failure to close it in schools across Scotland, and now we are seeing it in our universities too.
“It’s appalling that this Government is betraying young Scots from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
“A good education can be a passport out of poverty and it’s unforgivable that this is being denied to so many talented youngsters because of the SNP’s failings.
“The substantial widening of the attainment gap for university entry is shocking and unacceptable.
“The Ucas statistics should be a source of shame for Nicola Sturgeon, who has comprehensively broken her promises on education.
“She must finally start to deliver on her attainment gap pledge before even more young Scots have their futures derailed by SNP incompetence.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The number of students attending university from the most deprived backgrounds is at a record high.
“The fair access commissioner’s latest report recognises that Scotland is continuing to ‘set the pace’ when it comes to widening access to university, and described the Scottish Government’s approach as an ‘unambiguous success’.
“We are determined to accelerate the progress that has been made and we are investing a record £1bn in the Scottish Attainment Challenge during this parliamentary term.”
Sturgeon last month denied breaking the promise to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap in Scotland’s schools after figures showed that on average, the gap increased from 12.2% in 2018/19 to 14.7% among S3 pupils.
Meanwhile, it increased from 17.34% to 18.22% in primaries one, four and seven.