People from the most deprived areas of Scotland are more likely to go to college or university than those from better-off parts of the country, new figures show this week.
Despite an overall drop in participation in further or higher education, 120 in every 1,000 people from the poorest areas studied in 2007-08, compared with 117 per 1,000 in less deprived regions.
The report, by the Scottish Funding Council, also showed that the gap in university participation between the poorest and richest communities has decreased.
Laurence Howells, senior director of skills, research and knowledge exchange at the SFC, said the results sent a message about the benefits of shifting to flexible, open and distance learning, claiming the figures were an "indicator of progress".
He said the drop in participation was a result of the "boom years" of employment in Scotland.
Participation in distance and open learning at universities increased by 17 per cent over the period 2003-08, coinciding with the creation of the UHI Millennium Institute.
For higher education alone, the report says that in this five-year period, participation across Scotland dropped from 39 people in 1,000 to 37. Those in the most deprived areas are now two thirds as likely to go to university as those from the least deprived areas - a narrower gap than in previous years.
Despite the findings, Mr Howells cautioned that there was still substantial regional variation, with low participation in parts of Glasgow, Edinburgh and East Ayrshire. "Parts of Scotland haven't changed. It confirms what we know about the relationship between society and higher education. There is still peer pressure and the message that it's not cool to be clever," he said.
Robin McAlpine, public affairs manager at Universities Scotland, said the figures exposed some common misconceptions about Scottish higher education.
"People think we're not making progress on inclusion, but we are. On the other hand, people also think that Scotland has a very high participation rate and we don't," he said.
More women than men participated in higher education across all age groups surveyed, the data show. Among those aged 16-20, 24 per cent of women were in university, compared with 19 per cent of men.