NUS Scotland: Latest access figures are a positive step, but still not

Wednesday 10-08-2016 - 12:02

New statistics released today by the Scottish Funding Council (note 1) have shown that Scotland’s colleges and universities have made further, albeit small and slow, progress on fairer access and reinforced the need for urgent and bold action.  

The statistics from the SFC’s annual Learning for All report show that, in 2014/15: 
- University entrants from the 20% and 40% most deprived areas increased respectively to 14.1% (from 14% in 2014/15) and 30.8% (from 30% in 2014/15). 

- University retention rates after first year dropped to 91.3% (from 91.7% the previous year); however, retention rates for students from the most deprived 20% and 40% improving respectively to 88.1% (from 87.8%) and 88.8% (from 88.1%). 

- The proportion of college students who successfully completed their course (i.e., achieved a full qualification) fell to 71.3% for those studying HE level courses and 64% for those studying FE level courses. 

- The numbers of students moving from college to university without having to repeat first year (known as ‘articulation’ with ‘advanced standing’) also increased from 3762 students in 2013/14 to 3999 in 2014/15; however, more than 50% of these are still forced to repeat and duplicate previous years of study.

- The statistics also show a welcome narrowing of the school attainment gap, albeit marginally, and improvements in the proportion of college students studying at both FE and HE level from the most deprived backgrounds.

While these figures represent steps in the right direction, they also show that there’s still a long way to go to achieve fair access in Scotland. This reinforces the importance of the Scottish Government implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Widening Access in full as well as undertaking a comprehensive review of student support, both of which were manifesto commitments of the SNP.  

Vonnie Sandlan, President of NUS Scotland, said: 
“These new statistics show that we’re taking small steps in the right direction towards fair access. While it’s encouraging to see access rates for our poorest students going up, it’s still marginal and not fast enough if we’re to truly achieve our ambitions on fair access. While this is clearly moving in the right direction, it’s only a small one - and we cannot forget that truly fair access still remains very far away. We’ve also long said that colleges have a vital role to play in improving access to our universities, so it’s really positive to see more students benefitting from the articulation routes that exist between colleges and universities. However, more than half of these are forced to unfairly repeat years of study, bringing extra workload and debt, and a waste of precious resources.”

“As hard as we work to improve fair access, it can’t stop at simply getting students in to education – they must be supported to stay there and achieve their full potential. It’s extremely concerning to see retention rates falling across both college and university – a huge waste of student potential and resource, and a huge loss for Scotland as a whole. We were really pleased SNP committed to a full review of the current student support system, during the Scottish elections. That review could build on the work of the widening access commission, and ensure that we have the support in place to not just help people into education, but to stay there and reach their full potential. This review must now be established as a priority, and look forward to playing a full role in it to ensure that we best reform support to enable students to succeed.”

“It’s no coincidence that these improvements are coming through in the aftermath of legislation on widening access and the introduction of thousands of additional places to support that. Proof that when the whole sector takes action on widening access, we see results. The Commission on Widening Access has given us a clear blueprint and ambitious targets for how we can achieve this, now we need to see these proposals become a reality. In another year of record demand for a university place, our priority must be ensuring that the necessary places are available so that every student with the potential to succeed has the opportunity to do so, along with the financial support to enable them to stay, and thrive, in education. These are both key issues that NUS Scotland will be campaigning on as we look ahead to the coming spending review.”


1.    The Scottish Funding Council’s release can be found here: 
2.    The full report from the Commission on Widening Access is available here: NUS Scotland’s response is available here: 


NUS Scotland

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widening access,fair access,learning for all,figures,press release,press

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