Scottish universities are being urged to change the way they select students in a bid to increase the number of disabled people accessing higher education.

The One in Five campaign, which is backed by all Scotland’s major political parties, has written to universities to ask for disability to be recognised as a fundamental part of the admissions process.

According to a 2017 report by the Scottish Funding Council, only four of the country’s 18 universities consider disability as a factor in the contextualised admissions process, which helps identify students who may have faced challenges because of their upbringing.

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Figures show there is a disproportionately low number of students with disabilities currently studying at university, with just 11.5 per cent of full-time students identified as disabled. Some 20 per cent of the overall population are considered to have a disability.

Universities said they were open to discussing the issue, but added that contextualised admissions were mainly focused on socio-economic barriers, with other policies in place to identify disabled students.

However, the One in Five campaign argued that having a disability often meant students had lower attainment rates than their non-disabled peers.

Pam Duncan-Glancy, a co-founder of One in Five, said disabled people were too often left behind in work and education.

She added: “University gave me the best chance in life I could have and I want that for more disabled people. The gap between admission rates of disabled and non-disabled people shows we have a way to go.

“By default, we are losing out and we need to fix that by design. Using disability as a contextual criteria on admissions is a way to do this and I hope all universities will consider it.”

Student body NUS Scotland has backed the call.

Disabled students’ officer Lainey McKinley said: “We know that institutions have duties to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students once they’re in the door, but that isn’t the full story.

“Universities are rightly, and increasingly, making use of contextualised admissions when considering under-represented groups.

“We need to see this work built on – and we support any measures by Scotland’s universities to better recognise the barriers that disabled applicants face.”

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A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said institutions welcomed applications from people with disabilities and encouraged disclosures during the admissions process so they could make reasonable adjustments.

She said: “At a sector level, the number of full-time students doing an undergraduate degree reporting a disability has increased steadily from 2010, but we recognise that this does not fully reflect disability in the population as a whole.

“Universities take their responsibilities to disability equality, and that of other protected characteristics, very seriously. This is covered through formal policies, monitoring and reporting.

“As disability covers a very wide and complex range of physical and mental conditions, it’s very important to work with the individual applicant to understand their circumstances and what support they need, from admissions onwards.

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“Scotland’s universities use contextual admissions, including adjusting grades, to widen access for those from deprived backgrounds because there is a very strong and causal link between deprivation and educational attainment. Socio-economic disadvantage is not covered under the equality act, so we are working in different ways to address that.”