Most-ever students from deprived areas enrolled at Scottish universities last year


A total of 16.7 per cent of Scottish domiciled full time first degree entrants to Scottish higher education institutions are from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland, according to the Higher Education Student Statistics, published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. This is an increase of 0.3 percentage points, or 545 entrants, from 16.4 per cent in 2019-20.

The figure is still short of the Scottish Government’s target that by 2030, students from the 20 per cent most deprived backgrounds should represent 20 per cent of entrants to higher education.

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More students who began a university course were educated at a private school than at any time over the past five years – however the proportion of privately educated students remained the same as last year, at 11 per cent.

Edinburgh University

Overall, a record number of students enrolled at Scottish universities and colleges in 2020-21: an increase from last year of 8.6 per cent to 282,875. The number of post-grads also rose to 81,915.

A total of 37 per cent of undergraduate degree students in Scotland obtained a first class honors degree, 1 per cent higher than the UK as a whole and two per cent up on the previous academic year.

In a year when a lot of international travel was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the figures showed that in 2020/21 more students from Ireland had enrolled than any other EU country at providers in Scotland, with Germany a close second.

Meanwhile, the number of students from China more than doubled in the past five years, from 8,475 in 2016-2017 to 17,165 last academic year. A total of 5,745 students from India enrolled in Scottish universities, while the number of those coming from the US remained fairly static at 5,285 last year.

Universities Scotland director, Alastair Sim, said: “It’s a source of pride for the sector that more students than ever from Scotland’s most deprived areas are studying and hopefully flourishing at universities. We remain committed to the 2030 target but we are acutely aware that the final push to get to 20 per cent of students coming from the most-disadvantaged backgrounds will be the hardest.”

UK-wide, 57 per cent of all higher education students were female – which has been the same since 2016/17.

Over the past five years, the proportion of first year students aged 20 and under has decreased by five percentage points, from 42 per cent to 37 per cent. Despite this change, this age group continues to be the largest.

Lucy Van Essen-Fishman, lead policy and research analyst at the Higher Education Statistics Agency, said that an expected hit to student enrollment due to the pandemic had not taken place.

She said: “As the scale of the disruption caused by the pandemic to almost all aspects of life became increasingly clear in the spring and summer of 2020, speculation began to arise about how the year’s extraordinary circumstances were likely to influence behaviour. In the higher education sector, much of this centered around enrolment.After higher education providers moved to remote learning, there were worries that UK-based students who might otherwise have enrolled in courses of higher education would defer enrolment or turn to other options after finishing their secondary education As borders closed, there was also widespread concern that the pandemic would lead to a collapse in the UK’s international student population.

“[However]we see particularly large increases in UK-based first year first degree students and in students, both domestic and international, beginning taught postgraduate degrees.”

She said that increases in postgraduate student numbers may be due to the pandemic.

She added: “While many students will have decided firmly whether or not to apply for postgraduate study before the pandemic was declared, taught postgraduate places on many courses can be available throughout the spring and summer. As the likely magnitude of the effects of the pandemic became clearer over the course of spring 2020, it is possible that some students will have decided to pursue postgraduate study at least in part as a means to increase their chances of success in a potentially difficult labor market.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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