Pupils from some of Scotland's most deprived areas were just as likely to graduate with a first-class honours degree than those from affluent areas if they attended confidence-building classes in school, a landmark study found.

Students who were given tailored support in fifth and sixth year to prepare them for higher education performed as well and in some cases better than those from the least deprived areas.

The biggest study of its kind in Scotland compared the outcomes of 30,000 students from the West of Scotland over a 16-year period who took part in the University of Glasgow's 'top-up' scheme.

Pupils from deprived areas considering university are taught essential higher education skills such as how to think and read critically and carry out research and are given confidence-building tips for participating in seminar discussions.

They attend a university lecture and are given graded assignments.

Helping pupils from poorer areas, who may be the first in their family to go to university "feel as if they belong" in higher education is key, say course leaders.

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To uncover pupils' socio-economic background, education establishments generally use the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) where SIMD1 is the most deprived 20% of postcodes to SIMD5 being the least deprived.

The study found that students from the two most deprived groups who had gone through the top-up programme had parity of performance with the most affluent students. 

We aren't taking places away from anyone 

They were also less likely to fail first-year exam -14.1% compared to 15.9% and 18.7% for students coming from the same schools who did not take part in the scheme.

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The same percentage - 87.9% - progressed beyond first year and there was very little difference in numbers completing their degrees and the class of degree.

Fifteen years ago there was a 10% gap in retention between students from the most and least deprived areas.

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Figures show the number of University of Glasgow students from the 20% most deprived areas increased from 10.9% in 2010 to 17.1% in 2021.

This is well ahead of the Scottish Government target of all HEIs to have 10% of entrants by 2021 and steady progress towards the target of 20%. 

Only around 2% were studying medicine ten or so years ago and this has reached 20%.

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Dr Neil Croll, Head of Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning at the University of Glasgow, said: "There are highly talented people living in every area of Scotland and if you just give them the chance they will flourish.

"It's about giving people the opportunities.

"Now we have this data, we know that what should be the case is the case.

"We didn’t expect the impact would last right through their degree, maybe first year at a push.

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"For the results to be showing that they are doing as well in terms of grades and final degree achieved, is a real testament to the talented students we have been able to help along the way."

All pupils on the top-up programme, which has been running since 1999, are offered an adjusted offer, for example four Bs at Higher level for an arts degree rather than five A grades.

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However, Dr Croll says a great many achieve better results.

"It's looking about equity for everyone," he said. "It's not stopping people from applying, it's not taking places away from anyone."

He said getting students "off to a good start" in first year, was helping cut the drop-out rate before the end of the first semester.

Post-graduate tutors go into schools and pupils are also given an undergraduate mentor from a similar background who is paid by the university. They also benefit from support to help them study for exams.

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Around 250 a year on the top-up programme will go to the University of Glasgow with around 900 going to other, participating Scottish universities.

"It’s great to see the numbers and see this is working," said Dr Croll, who has been working on the programme for around 20 years.

"We are making a massive contribution across the sector."

READ MORE: Almost a quarter of students from most deprived areas studying at Scots institution

Greater Glasgow has some of the highest concentrations of deprivation and socio-economic disadvantage within the UK.

The university runs a number of other programmes, backed by the Scottish Funding Council and local authorities, which aim to widen participation in higher education for pupils including those who are care experienced.

Dr Croll said: "When I was tutoring [in schools], there was a bit of suspicion, about why the university was sending people in.

"Particularly because  they were in challenging areas but the suspicions very soon disappeared when they realised we were there to work with them."

He said his own father was the first in the family to go to university as an adult.

He added: "If things keep going as they are you would hope that that number keeps coming down.

"There’s always going to be that intergeneration poverty we are battling against.

"We won’t be wasting the talent that has been wasted over the years."