The Scottish Government has appointed a new commissioner as part of its efforts to encourage more people from poorer backgrounds to go to university.

Professor Peter Scott, who has just taken on the role, said the greatest challenge facing higher education across the world is how to reduce the "glaring inequalities in participation between haves and have-nots".

Higher education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville said the former journalist, who was knighted in 2007 for services to education and is professor of higher education studies at University College London, had "impeccable credentials" for the job.

The Scottish Government has set the goal of having 20% of those starting university by 2030 coming from the country's most deprived areas.

The appointment of Prof Scott as commissioner for fair access to higher education in Scotland comes after a commission set up to help tackle the problem recommended the new post be created.

He said: "It is a great honour, and challenge, to be appointed commissioner for fair access.

"The greatest challenge facing all higher education systems in the world is how to remove barriers to fair access and reduce the glaring inequalities in participation between haves and have-nots.

"These inequalities undermine our efforts to build a high-skill economy and, more fundamentally, deny individuals the opportunities that should be available to all citizens in a democracy.

"I look forward very much to working with universities, colleges and schools as well as the Scottish Funding Council and Scottish Government to address these challenges."

Students welcomed the appointment, with Vonnie Sandlan, president of NUS Scotland, stating: "Professor Scott clearly has a long and distinguished career in education and brings a huge amount of knowledge and passion for education and fair access.

"We know that education is a transformative experience for individuals, communities and Scotland as a whole, and the responsibility to ensure that it's in reach for every child in Scotland is incumbent on us all - and today's appointment marks a milestone on that journey.

"We wish Professor Scott the very best in the role and look forward to working closely with him, and pushing forward with the bold action we need to deliver the fairest possible chance at education for all those with the potential to succeed."

Ms Somerville said: "Professor Scott has impeccable credentials to fulfil this role and a strong passion for widening access to higher education.

"I am delighted he will be leading on this area of work and look forward to the new and challenging perspective he will bring to the role.

"We are very clear that a child born in our poorest communities should, by the time they leave school, have the same chance of going to university as a child born in our wealthiest communities.

"That is what we are determined to achieve."

Universities Scotland convener Professor Andrea Nolan welcomed the "important appointment".

She said: "Scotland must seize the opportunity to address the shared challenge of widening access in a joined-up way across schools, colleges and universities.

"Professor Scott's role as commissioner is vital in marshalling schools, colleges, universities and others to address the challenge to close the attainment gap and promote wider access to higher education.

"If this can be achieved then Scotland has an opportunity to be world-leading in the approach it takes to access and social equality. Universities are excited to play a full part in this."

Labour education spokesman Daniel Johnson said: "The past few weeks have shown the absolute mess the SNP has made of education, harming the opportunities for students from poorer communities to get on in life. This role, therefore, comes with significant challenges.

"Figures published this week show that the chances of a Scottish university applicant being offered a place have fallen.

"While universities have expanded their offer to students from elsewhere in the UK, they have not been able to do so for Scottish students because the SNP government has squeezed the funding available.

"Labour supports free tuition, but if we are to widen access to universities for more Scottish students then the Scottish Government has to stop cutting university budgets and use the powers they now have to start increasing education funding."