I AGREE with Andrew McKie ("Testing times for those who need to widen university access", The Herald, August 7), much more needs to be done to close the access to higher education gap between young people from socially deprived areas and their more privileged peers. So does the First Minister, which is why the Scottish Government has made a commitment to close that gap by 2030. And so do the great majority of people in universities and colleges, if my experience as Commissioner for Fair Access is any guide.

But Scotland is not doing as badly as he suggests. It is true that, if you only count universities, the gap is wider than in England, despite free tuition. But one-third of higher education students in Scotland are in colleges, compared with only 10 per cent south of the Border. I believe that the fact Scotland provides so much technician-level vocational higher education in locally accessible institutions is a strength. It certainly shouldn’t be turned into some kind of "deficit".

The key fact though is Scotland has the highest higher education participation rate among the UK nations. In England it is still below 50 per cent, and applications were down this year. In Scotland it is heading towards 60 per cent. What that means is young Scots, whatever their background, get an opportunity to go to higher education that is still denied to their equivalents in England and Wales.

Peter Scott,

Commissioner for Fair Access,

6th Floor Atlantic Quay, Scottish Government, 150 Broomielaw, Glasgow.

IN response to Carole Ford (Letters, August 7) , reports that spending on education has fallen by £400 million when compared to 2007 should be seen in context of ongoing Westminster real term cuts of £3.3 billion to the Scottish budget.

Local authorities are responsible for education budgets and an increase of £120 million was spent in the last financial year. Salaries account for a large part of overall costs and the number of teachers has fallen by 3000 since 2007, mainly in Labour-run councils like Glasgow and North Lanarkshire due to falling school rolls, which multiplied by the starting salary of £27,000 comes to £81 million a year.

In 2007 there were 798,275 pupils overall and 309,560 in secondary schools. In 2017 there were 688,959 pupils overall with 281,933 in secondary schools and the pupil teacher ratio in Scotland is now 13.6 to one which compares favourably with England where the ratio is 15 to one in secondary schools and 20 to one in primaries.

There are teacher shortages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects like computing, maths and chemistry and from this month the Scottish Government is offering bursaries of £20,000 to eligible career changers to undertake an initial teacher education course and qualify as a teacher in Stem subjects.

Ms Forde also misrepresents the further education sector as more than 117,000 full-time equivalent college places are now being provided and the number of full-time college students completing recognised higher education qualifications is at all-time high.

Fraser Grant,

61 Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh.