More students are choosing to study higher education courses at Scottish colleges, according to figures from the Scottish Funding Council.
They reveal that while the participation rate in universities and HE institutions in the rest of the UK by Scottish-domiciled students remained constant in 2009-10, the participation rate in HE courses at colleges rose.
Graeme Kirkpatrick, depute president of NUS Scotland, welcomed the rise in the percentage of college students taking HE courses. But he warned they were a sign that little progress was being made in widening access to universities for students from non-traditional backgrounds.
"We know that students from the most deprived communities in Scotland are much more likely to study in colleges than universities, and we need to provide students with the widest possible routes towards completing their studies," he said.
"Despite years of good talk, and with record levels of public investment, universities still haven't moved anywhere when it comes to widening access. We've barely seen an increase in the numbers of the most deprived students getting access to universities, and even worse, (access to) our most selective universities (has) decreased."
Despite NUS Scotland's calls on universities to take in applicants from the most deprived areas, only one in 10 Scottish students fell into in that category. The proportion of students on HE college courses from the most deprived areas was more than double that.
The figures are included in Learning for All: sixth update on measures of success, the Scottish Funding Council's annual collection of statistics on the progress of its Learning for All strategy for widening access. They also showed the largest drop since 2002-03 - a six per 1,000 of population decrease - in FE participation.
Increasing the number of different routes students can take towards degree qualifications and making them more easily accessible is part of the government's blueprint for post-16 education, Putting Learners at the Centre.
Mark Batho, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said the figures showed "colleges playing a valuable part in meeting the demand for higher education in Scotland and increasing the choices people have to fulfil their potential for learning".
CONFLICT OVER SPONSOR STATUS
Scottish secretary Michael Moore has been asked to intervene in the row over the decision by the UK Borders Agency to remove the "highly trusted sponsor status" of six Scottish colleges.
The UKBA claims the colleges failed to meet new criteria, including rules on how records are kept, and a minimum completion rate of 85 per cent among overseas students.
Scotland's Colleges, the body which represents the FE sector, is concerned the move may prevent the colleges from recruiting overseas students in future and affect their competitiveness in a market worth millions to the sector every year. It has asked Mr Moore to raise their concerns with the UK Home Office.
"These rules require urgent attention before that point to ensure international opportunities are not lost for the colleges and for the potential students wanting to come to Scotland," said John Spencer, convener of the principals' convention of Scotland's Colleges.
The UKBA's move, it is feared, could also put in doubt the future of those international students already enrolled at the affected colleges - Anniesland, Stow, Cardonald, Motherwell and a further two, as yet unnamed. NUS Scotland has urged Theresa May, the UK home secretary, to ensure enrolled students' studies are not disrupted.