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 figures 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.
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.
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 honours degree, 1 per cent higher than the UK as a whole and 2 per cent up on the previous academic year.
In a year when international travel was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the figures showed 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 2016/17 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 stayed 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.”
A total of 57 per cent of all higher education students UK-wide were female, which has been the same since 2016/17.
Lucy Van Essen-Fishman, lead policy and research analyst at the Higher Education Statistics Agency, said an expected hit to student enrolment due to the pandemic had not taken place.
She said: "As the scale of the disruption caused by 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.
"[However], we see large increases particularly in UK-based first-year, first degree students and in students, both domestic and international, beginning taught postgraduate degrees.”
Ms Essen-Fishman said increases in postgraduate student numbers may be due to the pandemic.
She said: “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.”