Scottish universities have a better record on widening access than the UK average, and are also improving faster, according to the latest figures. The UK average for young full-time entrants from deprived areas was 13 per cent in 1997 and 1998. But Scotland's percentage has risen from 17 per cent in 1997 to 18 per cent in 1998.
Sixteen of Scotland's 19 higher education institutions have done better than expected in attracting entrants from low-participation areas. But there has been an above-average drop in the proportion of mature entrants from these areas, from 17 per cent to 14 per cent, compared with a UK drop from 15 per cent to 14 per cent.
Scottish Higher Education Funding Council statisticians said that since numbers are small, slight variations can have a major impact on this figure.
Chief executive John Sizer said: "Shefc is committed to widening access to higher education to disadvantaged groups and I am pleased that these figures show Scotland doing better than the UK average." He predicted that Scotland would do even better in future as the impact of Shefc's wider-access initiatives takes effect.
A spokesman for the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals said:
"Once again, we have demonstrated that we can make high participation rates work. One in two young Scots goes into higher education, but we have overtaken the rest of the UK in ensuring that new students progress through their course."
The figures also show that although Scotland has only 9 per cent of the UK population, it attracts more than 12 per cent of UK government and European Union research funding.
Paisley puts elite to shame, pages 6-7