Elite Scottish universities have been ordered to admit hundreds more students from deprived backgrounds as part of a £10 million scheme by the national government. The University of St Andrews currently holds the lowest proportion of students from deprived backgrounds in Scotland.
The government announced this month that at least 500 students from poorer backgrounds could be targeted. No details have been published, yet the government has revealed that it will establish binding targets on access. Universities that fail to meet the targets will be financially penalized.
“This move should be seen as part of the return for the continuing high level of investment in Scottish higher education, and should also open up opportunities for hundreds of young people to fulfil their potential, when they may not otherwise have the chance to,” said Scottish Education Secretary, Michael Russell, in a statement.
The National Union of Students (NUS) has criticised the University for its low intake of students from deprived backgrounds. The organisation found that the University has the largest ratio of wealthy to poor students at 1:28. The NUS said in a report released in July that fair access at Scottish universities is “40 years away”.
For entry in 2010, the University admitted 13 students from the most deprived backgrounds, with a total a 70 students since 2007, as revealed by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by The Saint.
The new scheme has been embraced by NUS Scotland. Robin Parker, president of the NUS, said: “In return for generous public funding, universities need to ensure the greatest public benefit and ensure that they’re providing increased opportunities.
“The proposals for extra places to boost access could help to ensure we have a university system which really promotes student potential and boosts access for the most deprived.”
The government also released figures that suggested students from deprived backgrounds could maximise their potential with involvement in schemes to widen access to university courses. First year students entering the University of Glasgow through the Top-Up Scheme dropped out less than those from more wealthy backgrounds. In addition, 60% of students supported by the Lothians Equal Access Program for Schools (LEAPS) enrol in a university course.
The scheme originated in a letter from Secretary Russell to the Scottish Funding Council, which administers public money to universities.
In the letter, Russell wrote: “It is important that this increased demand [for university places] does not damage one of the Government’s highest priorities in education – widening access to universities.
“There is scope within the settlement to expand the number of students that you fund. I want to see that growth targeted at widening access, in increasing the ability of those universities with the highest demand to take more students from the most deprived areas of Scotland at this time of high demand,” he said
“Continuing to cut college funding still further in the coming years will have a devastating impact for learners of all ages,” responded Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union.
The University could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.