The Scottish Higher and Further Education Funding councils will merge next week and one of the new body's first tasks will be to promote action to widen access, writes Olga Wojtas.
On the eve of the merger, a review group set up by the two councils warned that while efforts to widen access to further and higher education were showing results, progress has been slow.
Since 2001-02, all groups of Scottish higher and further education institutions have increased their intake from deprived areas. In the ancient universities, the proportion of students from these areas has risen from 20.9 per cent to 22.1 per cent, and in the old universities it has risen from 26.4 per cent to 28 per cent.
But universities and colleges could not tackle the problems on their own, the group said. Schools, local authorities, careers and guidance services and the Scottish Executive needed to be involved.
Jim McGoldrick, review group chairman, said lack of confidence and aspiration was the most significant barrier to learning for disadvantaged groups.
"All the other barriers - learner-support arrangements, the coherence of Scotland's qualification systems, recruitment and selection practices, institutional funding arrangements and even school attainment - are secondary," he said. "Where groups are underrepresented in further and higher education, this is largely because they are much less likely than average to apply."