SFC news published since 2018. See SFC archived content for earlier news articles.

The Scottish Funding Council’s latest report on widening access has found more disadvantaged young people returned for the second year of their university degree course in 2020-21 than in the previous year. They were part of the cohort of students whose first year of studies was disrupted by Covid-19. 

According to the report, which was published today, the retention rate for students from Scotland’s 20 percent most deprived areas increased from 87.5 percent in 2018-19 to 90.2 percent in 2019-20. This was almost exactly in line with the rise in the retention rate for all students starting their university course that year. 

During the first summer of the pandemic the Scottish Government introduced a raft of ‘no-detriment’ measures to support students. These included early access to £11.4 million of Higher Education Hardship Funds. In August 2020, the Scottish Funding Council announced a £5 million fund to help colleges and universities tackle digital exclusion among disadvantaged students. Across the whole of Scotland universities introduced initiatives to help their students cope with the challenges they were facing. 

Today’s report also confirms the university sector has once again achieved the Commission on Widening Access’s interim target of 16 percent of all Scottish-domiciled full-time first-degree entrants being from the 20 percent most deprived areas by 2021-22. In 2020-21, 16.7 percent of all Scottish-domiciled entrants to full-time first-degree courses were from these areas. 

Additionally, the new report finds that at tertiary sector level equality of access is being achieved, albeit with variations in level of representation at institution and sector level. Combining all full and part-time undergraduate higher education courses at Scotland’s universities and colleges, 19.7 percent of entrants were from the 20 percent most deprived areas. This figure rises to over 21 percent for full-time entrants only. 

Commentating on the report, James Dunphy, SFC’s Director of Access, Learning and Outcomes said:  

Today’s report reflects the advances being made in achieving our collective ambitions for fair access to higher education in Scotland. It also makes a valuable contribution to understanding how universities, colleges and other stakeholders can work to accelerate progress. 

“It is encouraging to see evidence that interventions across our system – from the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council and individual institutions – had a positive effect on our most vulnerable students during the first year of the pandemic.

“Another positive is that retention rates have increased for these students as well as for the general student population.  

“These outcomes are worth celebrating as we push ahead with plans to widen access across the tertiary system”

Report on Widening Access 2020-21 can be found here