'Painfully slow' progress in getting poor to university

18th March 2011 at 00:00
Report notes lack of change in proportion of poorer people entering higher education

People from poor backgrounds remain far less likely to go to university despite years of attempts to level the playing field, new figures show.

The Scottish Funding Council, which funds higher and further education, bemoaned "painfully slow" progress after publishing its fifth annual Measures for Success report.

While the actual number of higher-education students from the most deprived communities has increased slightly, the participation gap between them and everyone else remains wide.

Ali Jarvis, chair of the funding council's access and inclusion committee, stressed at a conference this week that progress had been made, but "there are elements where that progress is painfully slow, almost glacial".

Since the funding council's Learning for All strategy was published, in September 2005, there has been "no significant change" in the proportion of people from the poorest 20 per cent of areas who go to college and university.

There continues to be a "large gap" in the proportion of pupils progressing to higher education from schools in the poorest and wealthiest areas. Leavers from two local authorities containing affluent Glasgow suburbs, East Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire, are far more likely than peers in any other authority to go on to higher education.

People from deprived areas who do continue their studies are more likely to go to college, while those from more affluent areas tend to go to university. The absence of people from deprived backgrounds is particularly pronounced in Scotland's ancient universities: at the University of the West of Scotland 22.6 per cent of students come from the most deprived areas; at St Andrews University, only 3.7 per cent.

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, told this week's funding council conference in Perth that people from certain backgrounds gravitated to certain institutions, which put some graduates at a disadvantage.

"Some institutions carry more social capital than others - one piece of paper will give you more influence than others," he said, before calling for positive discrimination to be explored.

The percentage of people not in education, employment or training has increased for the first time since 2005, with young men in this category increasing by three percentage points in a year.

In 2006 the Scottish Government estimated there would be 32,000 young people falling into this category in 2007; figures for 2010 show 36,000 young people in the Neet group.

Brian Cooklin, who represents School Leaders Scotland on further and higher education, said universities had come up with schemes to broaden access and that, assuming these were not cut, people from poorer backgrounds would find it easier to progress to post-school study.


Council areas with school-leavers most likely to enter higher education (2009-10) (%)

East Renfrewshire - 60.8

East Dunbartonshire - 54.9

Renfrewshire - 39.9

Aberdeenshire - 39.6

Orkney - 39.0

Areas with leavers least likely to enter HE (%)

Stirling - 20.6

South Lanarkshire - 22.7

West Lothian - 26.5

Dundee - 27.2

Glasgow - 27.3


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