Ministers struggle in university challenge

The proportion of Scottish pupils who go on to higher education from state schools has risen only very slightly, despite concerted efforts by the Scottish Executive to widen access.

Figures released yesterday (Thursday) by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that 86.3 per cent of entrants to higher education in 2004-05 came from state schools, against 85.9 per cent the previous year.

The Scottish figure is below the UK average of 86.6 per cent, but compares well with a figure for England of 85.9 per cent.

Likewise, the statistics show no change in the proportion of young full-time undergraduates from "low participation" neighbourhoods - still at 20.1 per cent. Nevertheless, this figure is still significantly higher than the UK average of 14.4 per cent for 2004-05.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: "It is heartening that Scotland continues to be more inclusive than the rest of the UK, but the fact that these numbers have not changed much in five years shows how difficult it is to make progress."

Scottish students fare badly, however, in terms of non-continuation, with 10 per cent of young full-time first degree entrants dropping out between their first and second year in higher education. This compares with a UK-wide figure of 7.7 per cent.

UHI Millennium Institute and Bell College have substantially higher drop-out rates than the Scottish average and their respective benchmarked institutions. Napier, Paisley and Strathclyde also have non-continuation rates which are higher than their relative benchmarks.

St Andrews University, which has historically had one of the worst records among Scottish universities for attracting entrants from non-traditional backgrounds, this week announced that its medical school is to accept college HNCs or HNDs as qualifications for entry, the first such move in Scotland.

Along with Perth College, it is pioneering a new joint access programme, Pathway to Medicine, aimed at mature students who have no tradition of university study in their immediate family.

From 2007, students completing an HNC in applied sciences at Perth College will be able to take up five places that have been set aside on the university's six-year medical programme.

Fraser Keir, director of Scottish recruitment and access at St Andrews University, said: "There are many mature students in Scotland who have the ability and the life experience to become excellent doctors but, until we developed this access course, very few had the opportunity to study for a career in medicine."

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