Universities commit a full and fresh contribution to widening access as participation indicators published

The Scottish Funding Council has today (2 February) published data showing the number of young, full-time entrants to Scotland’s higher education institutions in 2015/16 by the most deprived areas of Scotland.

The data show that 10.4 per cent of full-time entrants to Scotland’s universities, under the age of 21, were from the 20 per cent most deprived areas of Scotland (SIMD20) in 2015/16. 24.8 per cent of young, full-time entrants were from the 40 per cent most deprived areas of Scotland.

Commenting on the data published today and the shared challenge of widening access, Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland, said:

“Universities fully support the whole-system approach to closing the attainment gap and widening access emphasised by the Commission on Widening Access.

“Universities are ambitious to make their full contribution to widening and are developing fresh approaches to drive this further. This work is led by three Principals from across the sector to give it the priority it deserves. It will lead new thinking on admissions policy, bridging programmes, and progress from college to university.

“Universities are also making their own contribution to increasing the number of school leavers, from all backgrounds, who have at least the minimum entry requirements for university. For instance, universities are providing additional opportunities for school pupils to a wider range of subjects in the senior phase.  This needs to contribute to a whole-system support for improvement in the attainment of pupils from the most deprived areas, offering Scotland the best chance of widening access to university. 

“Today’s 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 SIMD20 areas has grown since then. Universities will do all they can to encourage ambition, to support attainment and to recognise potential in applicants of all backgrounds to give students much-deserved opportunities.”

Today’s data-set only looks at a certain group of entrants to university and does not include entrants over the age of 21 or those who study at university part-time, which constitute a significant proportion of those who start at university.

Commenting on the need to take a holistic approach to measuring progress on widening access, Mr Sim said:

“There is an unnecessary age limit on today’s figures which results in a partial picture of access to university. University is, and should be, about second-chances for people of all ages as well as for school-leavers. Let’s be sure to include that important group of people as we measure progress towards shared access goals.”



  • The SFC published today’s data for young (under 21) entrants to be as comparable as possible to the methodology of a UK-wide data set on higher education performance indicators also published today by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
  • The Scottish Government’s targets of reaching 20% of university students from SIMD20 neighbourhoods by 2030 is not focused only on young (under 21) or full-time students so today’s data set from the SFC should not be used as the means to measure progress towards it.
  • The most accurate measure to track progress towards the Scottish Government’s 20% goal is also produced by the Funding Council. The next data release, for 2015/16, is expected later in the spring. The current data shows that 14.1% of university entrants are from SIMD backgrounds. Table 30, pg 38, SFC Learning for All 10 (2016).
  • UCAS data for entry to university in 2015 shows a 3.1 per cent drop in the number of SIMD20 18-year old Scottish-domiciled students applying to Scotland’s universities. This data set corresponds with the data released today by the Scottish Funding Council which looks at entrants in the 2015/16 academic cycle. Both data sets consider young applicants and entrants only – which presents only a partial picture of university applicants and entrants. The UCAS data can be found here.
  • The three Principals leading Universities Scotland’s fresh approach to widening access are: Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of University of St Andrews, who will lead work on university admissions. Work on articulation will be led by Susan Stewart, Director of the Open University in Scotland. Work on bridging programmes will be led by Professor Petra Wend, Principal of Queen Margaret University Edinburgh. Further detail was announced in early January and can be found here.


For further information please contact:

Susannah Lane, Head of Public Affairs, Universities Scotland

T: 0131 2250715 M: 07715 992908