Students from deprived background 'transferred' between universities
The Scottish Government’s policy of funding places reserved for widening access to the country’s most exclusive universities may be failing to recruit as many students from deprived areas as hoped, figures obtained by Holyrood suggest.
Admissions statistics obtained using freedom of information legislation show that while universities like Edinburgh and Stirling have increased the number of students recruited from deprived backgrounds, numbers at the University of the West of Scotland and Queen Margaret University have decreased.
The Scottish Government has invested £10m per year for the next four years in ‘access places’, some of which has been used to fund places at universities with poor access records reserved for students from the bottom 40 per cent of areas as determined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).
Funding for 727 places was made available for the 2013/14 academic year, of which 599 were filled, according to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). However, just 273 additional SIMD40 students have been recruited at the 16 universities which responded to Holyrood’s request.
While all admissions statistics for 2013/14 are subject to change until published by the SFC next year, the figures will prompt fears that access places are helping shift students between universities, without a significant overall improvement in access.
NUS Scotland, which campaigned for funded access places to be introduced, welcomed the progress at ancient universities, but called on authorities to ensure that all universities delivered on their widening participation commitments.
“We want to see continued investment in additional widening access places, to deliver as much progress as possible in getting people from the most deprived backgrounds into our universities and colleges,” NUS Scotland president Gordon Maloney told Holyrood.
“If these statistics bear out, it’s good to see increases overall in the numbers of students from the poorest backgrounds. It’s also really positive to see the beginnings of progress at some of our most elite institutions, where it’s needed the most.
“In the first year of additional places it was possible, and potentially welcome, that we’ve seen institutions which previously did little on fair access taking more students from our most deprived communities, when previously they might have gone elsewhere.
“However, the SFC and Government must keep an eye on overall numbers in the sector to make sure that over the coming years we see increases across all our institutions, not just increases in one part offset to some extent by decreases elsewhere.”