Blunders in a publication by the national funding body for Scotland's universities and colleges have put top-scoring authorities at the foot of a league table for school-leaver destinations, TESS can reveal.
The Scottish Funding Council included erroneous data for five local authorities in its annual report, Learning For All, forcing education bosses to explain themselves to politicians.
The report, which monitors attempts to make universities more accessible, showed all five councils doing badly at getting school-leavers into higher education.
Bottom of the list was Stirling Council, sending only 20.6 per cent into HE. The true figure is 40.3 per cent - the third-highest in the country.
Second-bottom was South Lanarkshire, at 22.7 per cent, when it should have been 38 per cent; and third-bottom was West Lothian at 26.5 per cent, when it should have been 31.1 per cent.
Figures in South Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire also took a tumble from their true level, as did the national average - down to 27.1 per cent from 35.7 per cent.
"It is worrying that a national body can mistakenly publish this type of information," a West Lothian Council spokesman said. "Statistics and reports such as this are read by frontline staff and have the potential to demoralise teachers who dedicate a great deal of time to helping disadvantaged children."
Jim Gilhooly, depute education director for South Lanarkshire, said: "This data has now been put into a wider public domain. It has resulted in questions being asked by local politicians, who were surprised by information which contradicted reports that had been given in relation to leaver destinations."
A spokeswoman for Stirling Council said the authority had been "particularly surprised" to find itself rated least likely to have leavers in HE, a message that was "clearly inaccurate". The real figure was "a very good achievement and a matter for measured celebration".
A Scottish Funding Council spokeswoman blamed a "keying error".