DROP-OUT rates for the poorest students in Scottish universities and colleges are much higher than their peers from the richest backgrounds.

New figures show 13 per cent of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds don’t complete courses at university.

That compares to a drop-out rate of just seven per cent amongst the most affluent.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) figures show the situation is worse in colleges where around one third of the poorest students don’t complete courses.

The situation is complex because some students leave with partial qualifications which can be beneficial while other may depart to take a job or pursue other training options.

However, Jodie Waite, vice-president of education for student body NUS Scotland, said the figures painted a “worrying picture” and called for better financial support.

She said: “Education is a transformative experience and we need to ensure every student has the support they need to remain and succeed.

“We hope to see the Scottish Government reforming the student support system to ensure every student gets the support they need to access the fantastic opportunities that education can create.”

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland Official, added: “Supporting students to engage in the learning opportunities university offers takes time, effort, staff and resources.

"It is vital the Scottish Government provides the funding to the sector that is needed to progress the widening access agenda, to support students and provide them with the world class teaching, research and pastoral support to flourish at university.”

Overall, the SFC data showed 14.8 per cent of students starting a full time, first degree course at university came from the most deprived areas in 2015/16.

That represents an increase from the 11.6 per cent recorded in 2009/10, but the proportion of students from the poorest backgrounds rose only marginally from 2014/15, when the total was 14.7 per cent.

Eleven of the country’s 18 higher education institutions saw a drop in the percentage of undergraduates under the age of 21 accepted in 2015/16 compared to the previous year.

The Scottish Government has set a target for one fifth of students entering higher education by 2030 to be from Scotland’s 20 per cent most deprived communities.

To help achieve that an interim target of at least 16 per cent of those starting full time first degree courses should come from this group by 2021.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Minister for Further and Higher Education

said the figures showed “some progress”, but stressed the need to improve.

She said: “While these figures show some progress being made we need to go further, faster.

“Figures also show over a third of people leaving the college sector with a qualification go on to study at university, demonstrating the importance of colleges as a route into higher education.

“To accelerate the pace of change, we expect universities, colleges and others across the sector to work with us to ... ensure all of our young people get the best possible start in life.”

John Kemp, the SFC’s interim chief executive, agreed more needed to be done.

He said: “This new report looks at what is being achieved to create fairer access to college and university and assesses progress toward the targets.

“Amongst many encouraging findings it shows a small increase in the proportion of students from deprived backgrounds in Scottish further and higher education.

“The early indications based on the most recent figures are that the pace of change is picking up.”

However, Scottish Labour called on the Scottish Government to redouble efforts to widen access to university, saying progress had “stalled”.

The party’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “The report shows the SNP must redouble efforts to widen access to Scotland’s universities.

“Shockingly, these statistics show that access has narrowed in 12 of the 18 universities, with fewer students from the poorest backgrounds getting a place.

“If First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is going to meet her own targets for university access by 2021, major action is needed by both government and universities to reverse these trends.”