MINISTERS appear to have snubbed calls for extra cash to help prevent bright pupils missing out on a university place.

Currently, the number of places at Scottish universities are tightly controlled because tuition fees are paid for out of public funds.

However, because institutions are under pressure to recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds there are fears other students will miss out in a capped system.

In December, Scotland’s Fair Access Commissioner Sir Peter Scott suggested the the funding of additional places would help solve the issue.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Higher Education Minister, appeared to rule out the move in a statement to the Scottish Parliament.

She said: “I fully understand why this recommendation has been made and we will continue to consider its merits.

“We are conscious, however, that ultimately we are engaged in reforming the system and this is best achieved by the fairer distribution of publicly-funded opportunities.

“In the end, widening access will be achieved by building a fairer system rather than continually expanding an unfair one.”

Ms Somerville said progress had been made in the key government pledge to ensure more people from deprived areas go to university, but stressed institutions needed to “pick up the pace”.

She added: “We expect every university to take action now to ensure that, by 2021, 10 per cent of entrants to each university are from Scotland’s 20 per cent most deprived backgrounds.”

A spokesman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said: “We agree there are no silver bullets or short cuts to achieving widening access.

“It will take hard work across the whole of education to achieve equality in attainment and sustained effort by universities to make student recruitment as fair as possible and to enable learners from every background to succeed.

“There are no shortcuts to our shared goals on access, but there is a real opportunity to reach the ambitious widening access targets for 2030 without reducing opportunities for other well-qualified learners.”

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray praised the introduction of a bursary for young students who have been in care - but called for greater use of non-repayable funds for all disadvantaged students.

He said: “Surely the minister can see that access to bursaries and grants while studying are also critical to young people from deprived backgrounds considering university because they too will not be able to turn to their families for financial help.”