The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has unveiled a new calculation of higher education partipation which it hopes will help concentrate wider access efforts on areas of greatest need, writes Olga Wojtas.
David Wann, SHEFC's director of funding, said that although Scotland had a significantly higher participation rate compared with others parts of the United Kingdom, there were still areas with particularly low participation.
"The council shares the government's commitment to 'the Heineken principle': to reach the parts that haven't been reached," he said.
SHEFC had commissioned Napier University's mathematics department to produce a geographic and social analysis of higher education participation. This moved away from the normal age participation rate to a "standardised participation ratio" covering postcode sectors, which could then be compared with the national average.
"I think we have here a powerful analytical tool, which should help the development of strategies and remedies to address the most serious problem areas of under-representation in higher education."
The new statistics enable colour-coded maps to be produced, with the highest and lowest participation postcode areas immediately recognisable.
"This shows the potential scale of the problem in particular localities. It is easy to zoom in and identify smaller areas of particularly low participation," Mr Wann said.
SHEFC was providing Pounds 1 million a year for at least five years to boost wider access, acknowledging that there were no "quick fix" solutions and that collaborative regional partnerships had to be developed and strengthened.
The largest concentrations of low participation were around deprived urban areas, which pointed to the need for a small number of well-coordinated partnership initiatives, Mr Wann said.
"There are also scattered pockets that will probably require a different style of approach. The council is a national body, and this should help us to ensure that all the worst cases across the country are addressed."