University access for poor students needing support

St Andrews University has rebuffed accusations that it is to blame for not attracting and retaining enough students from poorer backgrounds.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has criticised Scotland’s top universities after obtaining statistics about how many students come from the most deprived areas of the country.

The figures show that only 13 of last year’s intake of students at St Andrews came from such a background. Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities were also criticised by the NUS having recruited 51 and 91 respectively.

And while St Andrews has an overall retention rate of over 96 per cent, it falls to 85 per cent for poorer undergraduates.

Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said: “These statistics are shocking.


“For an institution like St Andrews to take 13 students from the poorest backgrounds last year shows just how far we have to go.

“University places should be given to those that have the most talent and potential. Unless institutions do more to widen access, they’re missing out on some of those with the most potential, that could get the best degrees, and, quite frankly, not doing their job properly.”

But that claim has been firmly rejected by the university who say they are working hard to widen access and the problem can only be addressed by society at large.

A spokesman told the Citizen: “We need much more support to engender the belief in young people that the brightest can come here, and succeed.

“Like other universities, we are conducting a huge amount of outreach work but for as long as we do that in isolation, our progress will be limited.

“If this challenge continues to be laid solely at the door of universities, it will never be properly met.


“It requires a concerted national effort on health, employment, housing and a culture of attainment at all levels of Scottish education to equip young people with the grades they need to gain entry and to succeed at university.

‘‘For every three offers St Andrews makes to students from deprived backgrounds in Scotland, however, only one accepts.

‘‘Proportionately, we make more offers to students from deprived backgrounds than any other group. However, so few achieve the grades necessary to succeed at university that those who do meet the entry standards become part of a very small, select pool.

‘‘We do not agree with the NUS that this should be a case of telling universities to do more. That is a gross oversimplification of the challenge we face as a country, and not just as a sector.’’