By Henry Turnbull
Scottish universities have fewer students from poorer backgrounds than any other region of the UK, according to a recent study. The Universities UK report revealed that only 28.1 percent of Scottish university students came from lower socio-economic backgrounds, compared to 32.4 percent in England, 32.5 percent in Wales, and 41.8 percent in Northern Ireland. This figure was lower than any other region of Great Britain, with the exception of the southwest, where it was also 28.1 percent.
The report, written by Brian Ramsden, the former head of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), did not include statistics from St Andrews, but the University has been criticised in the past for its high percentage of students from public school backgrounds. A University spokesman stated that the university was taking its commitment to widen participation “very seriously,” emphasising the programmes already in place to increase the number of applicants from poorer backgrounds.
In addition to these programmes, St Andrews is currently working with four other universities to deliver a “national programme specifically designed to increase the number of applications and offers from areas of multiple deprivation to highly selective courses within Higher Education,” Cook stated.
Siena Parker, the Students’ Association’s Director of Representation, acknowledged efforts to increase applications from poorer backgrounds. However, she argued that the university did need to do more to address the perceived image of St Andrews as an “elite institution” which is “only home to the upper classes.”
Parker suggested that predicted rises in tuition fees across the UK were likely to have a negative impact on widening participation in universities in general, and proposed that Scottish universities, including St Andrews, needed to increase opportunities for students to apply for scholarships and bursaries to combat this.
Student opinion in St Andrews seems divided. “The level of educational inequality in this university is frankly a travesty,” said Nick Sissling, a third year Economics student. Others seemed less convinced. “I’ve always thought applicants should be judged on their academic ability rather than where they come from,” argued Giles Goatly, a medic in his final year.