ALL Scottish universities have agreed to accept poorer students with lower exam grades in a bid to boost the number of working class undergraduates.

The move follows the final report of the Commission on Widening Access which recommended the introduction of so-called “adjusted offers” as a vital step towards getting more pupils from disadvantaged areas into higher education.

The policy is controversial because a consequence is that it will displace middle class students with higher grades unless the Scottish Government funds an expansion of higher education.

Widening access is a key priority of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, but recent figures have shown progress towards national targets has been painfully slow.

Part of the problem is that pupils from poorer backgrounds tend not to do as well in school exams as those from the middle classes and can find it difficult to enter higher education - which is highly competitive.

Universities Scotland, a body that represents principals, said all universities were now committed to reviewing admissions systems to consider how and when adjusted offers would work for them.

Alastair Sim, director of the organisation, said: “Universities are saying they will do more to recognise that some young people haven’t had the same opportunities or support from parents and schools as their peers.

“Those are the pupils whose grades might be harder won, which shows more commitment to learning and the right attitude once at university.

“Institutions are now experienced at identifying potential amongst thousands of applicants as well as proven ability.”

Mr Sim said there a growing body of evidence showed students who received offers that have been dropped by a grade or two could do just as well at university, if not better, than their peers.

He added: “To get that kind of successful outcome adjusted offers have to be done well and institutions need to make judgements on a case by case basis. It cannot be a well-meaning tick-box exercise.”

The Commission on Widening Access, chaired by Dame Ruth Silver, recommended that a separate admissions system for disadvantaged pupils should be in place by 2019 and should reflect the minimum academic standards required to successfully complete a degree course.

Although numbers of access students have improved in recent years just 1,335 school-leavers from the poorest 20 per cent of households went to university in Scotland in 2013/14 compared to 5,520 from the richest 20 per cent of communities.

By 2030, the Government wants to see the proportion of students from the poorest 20 per cent of households rise to 20 per cent.

In a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, NUS Scotland called for investment in extra places to allow for an increase in poorer students.

It states: “Investment in places is particularly important in reaching the targets for fair access set by the commission. Our figures suggest, on the basis of current trends, that these could be missed by decades.”