Universities Scotland responds to Funding Council report on widening access

The Scottish Funding Council has today (Wednesday 30 May 2018) published its annual report on widening access. The report provides data for academic year 2016/17 and tracks student entrants, progression and qualifiers in university and college according to metrics of socio-economic disadvantage and protected characteristics.

Responding to today’s report and the higher education sector’s work to widen access, Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland said:

“The slight drop in the number of university entrants from the poorest areas of Scotland by 0.2 per cent will be disappointing to those working incredibly hard to widen access to university but there should not be too much emphasis placed on the SIMD metric. There’s a time lag on the data and the Funding Council repeatedly makes the point that today’s figures reflect practice before universities responded to challenges from the Commission on Widening Access.

One key problem is that we are measuring the wrong thing if we want to know how many people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university. We know that more than half of young people entitled free school meals do not live in an area classified as SIMD20. We need a more robust way of tracking the progress made widening access to those affected by socio-economic deprivation. We’re pleased that Scottish Government have now recognised the case for using wider measures.

“Looking more broadly than SIMD, there are positive trends on entry rates for students with care experience and for those with protected characteristics such as disability, ethnicity students and even gender balance; overall retention rates are improved as are retention rates for care experienced and SIMD20 students. There is a lot to be positive about and there is no let-up in the energy or momentum of new action taken by universities to widen access.”


  • The Scottish Funding Council’s report on Widening Access for 2016-17 is now available on the SFC website at
  • The report details many signs of positive progress in widening access to underrepresented groups, improving retention and graduate outcomes. Some highlights include:
    • The number of first degree entrants declaring a disability has increased from 11.5% in 2015/16 to 12.3% in 2016/17 (table 18 in the SFC report).
    • There has been an increase of 10 care experienced entrants to full-time first degree courses at university between 2015/16 and 2016/17 (Table 23).
    • There has been a 0.1% increase in Black minority ethnic (BME) entrants to full time first degrees in HE to 8.1% in 2016/17. Table 14.
    • The proportion of female entrants to HE levelled off, dropping from 58.3% in 2015/16 to 58.1% in 2016/17.
    • The overall retention rate for all students increased to 91.8% in 2016/17 from 91.3% in 2015/16. Table 2.
    • The retention rate for SIMD20 students increased to 87.4% in 2016/17 from 87.1% in 2015/16. Table 2.
    • Retention rate for care experienced students is up to 87% in 2016/17 from 85.2% in 2015/16. Table 2.
  • The Funding Council’s report shows that 13.8% of entrants to full-time first degrees at university were from the poorest 20 per cent of areas in Scotland in 2016/17 (SIMD20). This is a 0.2% decrease on the previous year. The Funding Council’s report provides two figures for the percentage of SIMD20 entrants (the second can be found in table 5). The report explains the two figures for the same measure as being a result of different methodologies using a weighted and unweighted SIMD measure. The 13.8% figure is based on the unweighted SIMD and is the value used towards the Scottish Government’s targets. The Funding Council expects to be able to present only one measure from next year, when the data for academic year 2017-18 is released.
  • In November 2017, Scotland’s university sector responded thoroughly and comprehensively to the set of recommendations in the report from the Commission for Widening Access (CoWA). Our report, Working to Widen Access, sets out 15 actions that universities have committed to take in the areas of admissions, articulation from college into university with credit given for prior achievement and bridging programmes from school into university. The sector is focused on implementing those actions across 2018 and 2019.