SCOTLAND'S most prestigious universities have been urged to do more to attract students from the country's poorest backgrounds.

In his second annual report, Professor Peter Scott, the Commissioner for Fair Access, said progress on the issue had not been uniform between institutions.

He said: "The most selective universities continue to face serious challenges in attracting applicants from more disadvantaged social backgrounds and to reconciling their commitment to fair access with other goals, in particular the need to maintain their status as world-class research universities.

"At present, disadvantaged students are concentrated in colleges and in post-1992 universities.

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"Although it would be unreasonable to expect uniform student profiles across the whole higher education system, a fairer distribution is needed."

Mr Scott went on to stress the importance of success, saying higher non-continuation rates and inferior degree outcomes for students from deprived areas should not be accepted.


Overall, he said Scottish students from disadvantaged communities had more opportunities to go to university than their English, Welsh or Northern Irish counterparts, according to the Commissioner for Fair Access.

The report found Scotland was now "setting the pace in the UK" in terms of widening participation, with faster improvement in the opportunities for young people from socially deprived backgrounds to go to university compared to other UK nations.

The report also found the Scottish Government's target that at least 16 per cent first-degree entrants should come from the 20 per cent deprived communities has almost been met already.

However, Mr Scott also highlighted "a number of continuing concerns", including the need for a national network of access programmes, while urging bolder use of contextualised admissions taking into account the different circumstances of applicants and focus on assessing future potential rather than just rewarding past achievement.

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He also calls for a change in the attitude of universities towards giving college students with Higher Nationals full credit for their college study - something he says should be the default position.

Karen Watt, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: "The Commissioner's report shows evidence of good progress and that universities and colleges are working hard to ensure everyone has a fair chance of a place on a higher education course.

"The report also points out that there is a lot of work still to do. We will continue to play our part in this collective challenge until we have a truly level playing field."

A spokeswoman for Colleges Scotland added: "We have read with interest the Commissioner's Annual Report and are pleased to see that the key role that colleges play in widening access has been recognised.

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"Colleges play a fundamental part in helping people, regardless of background or circumstances, to learn new skills, retrain, gain qualifications and progress towards their chosen career.

"We agree with the commissioner that there are too many students not being given the credit for qualifications already achieved, and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government and universities to ensure that college students across Scotland are given due recognition for prior learning so that they can progress on to university if they wish without any unnecessary repetition."