Young people are increasingly choosing to take up higher education courses at Scottish colleges, figures published by the Scottish Funding Council have shown.
The participation rate of 16-19s in higher education at colleges rose from 11.8 per cent of the 2006 cohort to 14.6 per cent in 2011.
That means that a third of the 43.8 per cent of young people who engaged in higher education that year did so at a further education college, as opposed to a university. In 2006, only 29 per cent of HE students were enrolled at college.
The number of 16-19s taking HND and HNC courses also continued to rise, according to the funding council's Participation Rates for Entrants to Scottish Higher Education report. About one in six of the total number of 16-19s in the 2011 cohort were enrolled on these courses, compared with 14.2 per cent the previous year and 11.6 per cent in 2006.
Overall, participation in higher education in Scotland has risen since 2006-7, despite a small fall in 2007-08, the funding council report said.
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said that while the statistics were certainly "good news", he expected to see further progress in the coming years as the recent increase in widening access places and articulation places for students moving from college to university took effect.
"However, there is still much more to do to ensure that the rise in participation in higher education is matched by fairer access to higher education," Mr Parker said.
In the five years between 2006-07 and 2011-12, the higher education initial participation rate, which counts all initial entrants aged between 16 and 30, went up by 2.9 percentage points from 53.2 per cent to 56.1 per cent.
There has also been a rise in the number of full-time students, while the number of those signing up for part-time courses has gone down.
John Henderson, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, told TESS that the funding council's statistics showed the importance of colleges' role in delivering higher education in Scotland.
"This is still the main route into higher education for students from the most deprived communities in Scotland," he said.
However, while it was encouraging to see a rise in the participation rate of young people in HE-level courses, the fall in the overall numbers studying higher education in colleges highlighted by an SFC report in March was a "matter for concern", Mr Henderson said.
The report had shown a drop of more than 5 per cent in HE participation at college between 2010-11 and 2011-12.