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Progress towards widening access to higher education is detailed in a new report today from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).

The report focuses on the socio-economic status of students and on protected characteristics such as gender, race and disability as well as those having experience of care. It measures how many are setting out on degree courses, how many remained in higher education after a year, and their achievements at the end of their studies.

The report is the official publication for measuring progress towards Scottish Government targets arising from the work of the Commission on Widening Access.

Amongst today’s findings are that, in 2017-18, more students from Scotland’s 20% most deprived areas began a first degree course at a Scottish university than in the previous year. They represented 15.6% of Scottish students starting these courses in that year – an increase of 685.

Looking at how well universities are doing in preventing students from deprived backgrounds from dropping out of their course, the report found the retention figure went up from 87.4% to 89.4% between 2016-17 and 2017-18. There was also a small (0.2 percentage point) increase in the retention figure for care-experienced students in the same period.

The number of students from Scotland’s 20% most deprived areas celebrating their first degree rose in 2017-18. This was up over 3% on the previous year.

Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead said:

“This report demonstrates that universities and colleges are making strong progress on widening access to higher education. We have a record increase in entrants from our most deprived areas, and the gap between those from the least and most deprived backgrounds is smaller than ever. There are already 12 institutions exceeding their 2021 target to have at least 10% of full-time first degree entrants from the most deprived areas.

“The proportion of disabled students and black and minority ethnic students entering higher education is also increasing, while key university retention rates for both deprived and care experienced students are improving.  Overall, that means many more people in Scotland – no matter their background or circumstance – are benefitting from higher education, giving them an equal chance of success.”

Commenting on the findings of the report, SFC chief executive, Karen Watt said:

“This report shows evidence of good progress. This is happening because universities and colleges are working hard to ensure everyone has a fair chance of a place on a higher education course.

“It is especially encouraging to see evidence that universities are improving their support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds so that the retention rate for these students is getting closer to the norm.

“Achieving greater diversity and fair access is a collective challenge and there is a lot of work still to do. However, this report shows Scotland is leading the way in this important area.”

Today’s report is the third Scottish Funding Council Report on Widening Access. The reports have been published in response to a recommendation from the Commission on Widening Access to enhance the analyses and publication of data on fair access.