Fewer Scots from poorer backgrounds are attending ancient universities, according to official figures.
A report published by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) found only 8.4 per cent of entrants to the country’s most renowned universities came from the poorest communities in 2014/15, down from 8.8 per cent the previous year.
The decline emerged the day after the Scottish Government published figures showing the difference in attainment between schools in the wealthiest and poorest areas increased during the same academic year. Those from wealthier backgrounds doing nearly twice as well.
It was also disclosed that for the first time that the number of students from other EU countries graduating from Scottish universities overtook the number from the rest of the UK.
Under current policy, university fees for students from the EU are paid for by the Scottish government while students from the rest of the UK must pay up to £9,000 per year.
The figures were published after a Scottish government commission said universities must be forced to lower their entry requirements for children from the poorest backgrounds so they are based on the “minimum” academic standards needed to complete a degree.
Following the release of the report, a University spokesperson said, “The University is committed to widening access and breaking down barriers to academic achievement. We are currently taking time to read in depth and reflect on the Commission’s report.”
Pat Mathewson, President of the Students’ Association, said, “There is always more to be done in ensuring universities serve as engines of social mobility, and St Andrews has a forward looking view in meeting this essential objective.
“Both in practice and research, St Andrews has demonstrated leadership in widening participation.
“For example, even prior to this report, St Andrews already employed a strategy of lowered thresholds for access students in some instances.
“And the University’s outreach programs take a dedicated long-view in attracting students from diverse backgrounds.
“Furthermore, our academic strength has delivered cutting edge research on barriers currently underappreciated throughout the sector, such as the challenges posed to students from ARC (Access Rural Areas)
Despite the lack of tuition fees, it has emerged that only 9.7 per cent of Scots were accepted to university from disadvantaged areas last year compared to 17 per cent in England, 13.9 per cent in Northern Ireland and 15.5 per cent in Wales.
Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, said the SFC figures were “yet further proof that nine years of SNP
Government education policies have failed to close Scotland’s attainment gap nor help more poorer students get into university.”
She added: “Nicola Sturgeon talks a good game on education reform, but she has consistently shied away from following the evidence and handing our schools the freedom and autonomy they need to break the cycle of poor performance.”