A QUARTER of all medical students in Scotland attended private schools - despite the fact the independent sector educates just four per cent of all pupils in the country.

The figures have increased pressure on the country's universities to improve access to medicine amid claims the system is unfairly weighted against students educated by the state.

Official figures for 2013/14 show 196 of the 810 undergraduates accepted to study at Scotland's five medical schools were from private schools .

The figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) come just days after a medical student from one of Scotland's most disadvantaged communities told The Herald how difficult it had been for her to be accepted.

Joanne Martin, from Possilpark in Glasgow, applied to study medicine at the universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, but was rejected by all of them until Aberdeen gave her a second chance.

She feels the admissions system is heavily weighted against pupils from her background who do not have family experience of higher education and who do not get the same levels of private tuition or support available to pupils in private schools or those in middle class suburbs.

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU lecturers' union, said the Hesa figures were unacceptable - even though medicine is one of the most competitive courses, with Edinburgh University receiving 2,150 applications for just 190 places.

She said: "These statistics showing the disproportionate number of students from private schools studying medicine are concerning.

"We need a fairer way to enable those with the ability and ambition to get into university to study subjects such as medicine, dentistry or law and it should not just be about which school you went to."

Ms Senior said the figures underlined the "magnitude of the task" facing the Scottish Government's new Commission on Widening Access, which has been tasked with finding new strategies to get more students from poorer communities into higher education.

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland president-elect, also urged medical schools to do much more to ensure fairer access to their courses.

She said: "It's shameful that our medical schools are so unrepresentative of our society at large.

"We need to make sure places to study medicine go to the best candidates, not just to students from privileged backgrounds with the highest grades and lots of extracurricular experience.

"Medical schools have a responsibility to widen access so that our doctors don't simply come from one narrow group of society and we know we're getting it wrong when around a quarter of people studying medicine are former private school pupils."

Ms Sandlan urged the new commission to make "strong recommendations" to make fair access to higher education a reality.

A spokesman from Universities Scotland said state pupil access to medical degrees was trailing the average for other subjects by about 10 percentage points.

He added: "Universities have been aware of and acting on this imbalance to level the playing field for state school and private school applicants for some time."

All five medical schools take part in the Reach initiative, which works with state schools to encourage pupils to consider careers in medicine and to offer the practical support.

Reach puts a particular emphasis on less advantaged state school pupils and universities monitor the progression of the pupils taking part through application, offer, acceptance and entry.

The spokesman added: "It will always remain academically challenging to get into medical school; lives depend on it. Addressing the imbalance is not about making it easier but there are lots of things universities are already doing to make it fairer."