Universities Scotland welcomes progress to widen access and improve retention

Universities Scotland responded to widening access data published by the Scottish Funding Council today (Tuesday 4 November) in Learning for All by welcoming the progress the report shows on access and retention.

Learning for All presents annual statistics on widening access in the college and university sector. The 2014 report shows an increase in the number of entrants to undergraduate degrees in university from the most deprived areas of Scotland using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). The 2014 Learning for All report uses data for 2012/13, the most recent data available, but this pre-dates the creation of additional places ring-fenced for widening access and so does not capture the impact of these additional places. The report found:

  • The number of Scottish entrants to undergraduate degrees from the 20% most deprived postcodes (SIMD20) increased from 12.8 per cent of all entrants in 2011/12 to 13.3 per cent in 2012/13 (table 2).
  • The number of Scottish entrants to undergraduate degrees from the 40 per cent most deprived postcodes (SIMD40) increased from 28.6 per cent in 2011/12 to 29.0 per cent in 2012/13.
  •  There has been significant progress in the number of students articulating from college into university with full credit for their Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Higher National Diploma (HND). A total of 3,469 students articulated with full credit (advanced standing) in 2012/13 which represents an increase of more than 500 students since 2010/11, an increase of 17 per cent (table 7).

Significantly, the data show an increase in retention rates in addition to the increase in access. This is important to higher education institutions as the sector firmly believes that the drive to wide access has to go hand-in-hand with retention activities to ensure that students don’t just enter higher education but complete with successful outcomes.

  • Retention rates have increased steadily over the last four year period with sector-level retention rate for all students of 91.3 per cent in 2012/13, up from 89.7 per cent in 2009/10 (table 13).
  • Retention rates have also improved for students from the most deprived postcodes, increasing to 88.1 per cent for SIMD40 in 2012/13 up from 86.2 per cent in 2009/10 (table 13).
  • Retention rates for students declaring a disability have also increased from 88.9 per cent in 2009/10 to 90.2 per cent in 2012/13 (table 13).

Commenting on the figures for access and retention, Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland, said:

“The Scottish Funding Council’s statistical report on widening access out today is helpful and well-rounded because it looks at the issue across schools, college and university which is exactly the holistic approach that Scotland needs to take to this complex and important issue. It also looks at widening access alongside retention which is very important to universities; a drive to widen access must be inseparable from the drive to ensure those students achieve successful outcomes.

The report brings good news, with progress across every measure of widening access to university, articulation into university from college and rates of retention. What’s more, this data is time-lagged so the figures do not yet take into account the additional places that were created specifically for SIMD40 entrants and that came into effect the year after this data report. We’d expect to see a step-change in next year’s data.”

New to the 2014 Learning for All report are data showing school attainment, expressed in the proportion of students achieving three As at Higher or Advanced Higher level by SIMD (table 22c). Presentation of this data, which uses similar measures to that shown for university entrants, provides useful context for consideration of the scale of the challenge involved in widening access to university. The data show some improvement in the attainment of minimum entry requirements for university by pupils from the most deprived 20 per cent of postcodes between 2011and 2012 but the data still show a significant gap between attainment levels in the most and least deprived postcodes in 2012 with only 4.3 per cent of pupils from SIMD20 postcodes achieving 3 As at Higher and Advanced Higher level compared with 26.1 per cent of pupils from Scotland’s most affluent postcodes.
Responding to the figures, which helpfully set the challenge of widening access in the wider context, Mr Sim said:

“One of the most striking things in this report is the data which show a vast attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils when it comes to achieving Highers and Advanced Highers. To widen access successfully you need to take a life-cycle approach from the early years, involving parents, throughout primary and secondary school, college and beyond, creating second chances for those that want them.

“The drive to widen access needs to be considered as well as concerted; informed by evidence of what works, sharing of best practice and a collaborative approach to a challenge we all face. This approach has the full commitment of every higher education institution in Scotland. Universities are reaching down into schools to help raise attainment and aspiration and schools are working hard too. Scotland will see greater progress by acknowledging that widening access to university is a shared responsibility and one that all partners need to work together to address.”


  • Universities Scotland’s report, Access All Areas, published in 2013 shows a range of widening access initiatives at institutions across the higher education sector which take the life-cycle approach to widening access from initiatives aimed at the early years, with the involvement of parents, throughout school, college and targeted initiatives aimed at mature students.
  • Additional places, ring-fenced for students from SIMD40 postcodes and for students articulating from college into university were created for academic year 2013/14 onwards. The impact of the additional places is expected to show in data available from 2015.
  • Learning for All can be found on the Scottish Funding Council website: