Widening access: HESA Performance Indicators fail to capture universities’ significant step-up on access over the last year

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has today, Wednesday 21 March, published a data set of performance indicators for entrants to university from state schools and from social classes NS-SEC 4,5,6 and 7 in academic year 201/12. However, the time-lag on today’s data means that it cannot record the impact of a range of significant actions taken by universities and the Scottish Government over the last year to widen access to disadvantaged students.

Since 2011/12 every university in Scotland has signed up to an outcome agreement on access including targets for progress. Additionally, the Scottish Government has funded an additional 700 places at university which are to be ring-fenced for students from the poorest neighborhoods (as measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation’s lowest two quintiles – SIMD40). Universities are currently recruiting to fill these places and will see more students enter university in academic year 2013/14 from a broader range of backgrounds.

Commenting on today’s figures, Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland said:


“The inevitable time-lag on the data means that today’s figures don’t yet reflect the major action to widen access that universities have taken over the last year. Every university has publicly committed to doing so and has developed an outcome agreement including goals for progress. Universities are also working hard to recruit to 700 additional places which have been set aside for students from the poorest neighborhoods and which we hope to see on university campuses from the autumn onwards.

“We can project that the impact of the additional access places is likely to mean as much as a 15 per cent increase in university students from the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland, but frustratingly this won’t show up in the figures for another two years.

“Universities have been working to widen access for years in partnership with schools and colleges. There must be a collective effort to raise aspiration and attainment of young people, from the earliest years onwards, if we’re to bring about a significant change in the profile of students at university.”


In addition to the HESA figures, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has produced a complementary set of figures which look at Scottish-domiciled entrants to Scottish universities. As Scotland is a net-importer of students from the rest of the UK, such entrants can skew the figures for Scotland. The SFC figures provide a more focused picture than that produced by HESA.

Figures from the SFC show:

  • 29.2 per cent of Scottish entrants to Scotland’s universities were from social classes 4-7, a figure which is broadly comparable with last year (29.6 per cent).
  • 22.5 per cent of Scottish entrants were from neighborhoods in the 40 per cent most deprived data zones in Scotland.



  • Figures from the SFC show that there were 4,676 students from MD40 backgrounds in 2011/12 out of a total of 20,782 of known deprivation. When the additional 700 ring-fenced university places for MD40 students have been recruited, the number of MD40 students is projected to increase to 5,376 entrants, which would mean as much as 15 per cent increase in MD40 entrants between 2011/12 and 2013/14.
  • SFC’s data, with a focus on Scottish-domiciled students, can be found here.
  • Today’s figures show the picture in 2011/12. Outcome agreements on access as signed by universities take effect from academic year 2012/13. The additional funded places are for academic year 2013/14 which means neither action is captured in the HESA or SFC figures released today.