Further education colleges are playing a crucial role in bringing students from Scotland's poorest areas into higher education, according to a report.
But the proportion of students from the poorest backgrounds at Scotland's ancient universities has dropped in recent years, the funding council figures show.
The "state of the nation" report from the Scottish Funding Councils for further and higher education sets out the two sectors' contributions side by side for the first time. The funding councils believe their planned series of reports, covering everything from knowledge transfer to graduate employment, will be the most comprehensive account of a country's higher education system published anywhere in the world.
The report shows that more than 40 per cent of full-time, and 36 per cent of part-time higher education students in Scotland's 46 further education colleges came from the most deprived parts of the country in 2000-01. The figures for 1996-97 were 38 per cent and 37 per cent.
The proportion of full-time students from poor areas at Scotland's ancient universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh dropped from 21 per cent in 1996-97 to 20.5 per cent in 2000-01. The number of part-timers from poor backgrounds fell from 29 per cent to 23 per cent.
Post-92 universities did better, with the proportion of poor full-time students rising from 29.5 per cent in 1996-97 to 32 per cent in 2000-01.
The part-time proportions rose from 32.5 per cent to 36 per cent.
The proportion of students from poor areas studying higher education across all institutions, including further education colleges, crept up from 29 per cent in 1996-97 to 29.3 per cent in 2000-01.
Roger McClure, the funding councils' chief executive, said it was particularly important to include colleges, since they educated a quarter of Scotland's higher education students.
But Mr McClure said that widening access could not be solved by colleges and universities alone. He said that a lot depended on what happened during children's formative years.
Alan Tripp, vice-chair of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, said that about 10 per cent of entrants to higher education institutions came from colleges that offered higher national certificates and diplomas, he said.
A THRIVING SECTOR
- Some 51.5 per cent of Scots under 21 go into full-time higher education
- Almost 11 per cent of students in Scottish higher education institutions come from outside the UK. Greece sends the largest number (2,021), followed by the US (1,813) and China (1,748).
- More than 80 per cent of students graduating from an HEI in 2001-02 were in work or further study six months later
- Among workers aged under 30, women are more likely to have higher education qualifications
- In 2001, Scotland attracted 50 per cent more research council funds per capita than England, 100 per cent more than Wales and 145 per cent more than Northern Ireland
- Women comprised 35 per cent of academics in HEIs in 2001-02, a rise from 32 per cent in 1997-98
- HEIs increased their income by more than 31 per cent between 1996-97 and 2001-02
- Just under half of HEI buildings need major spending on repairs.
Source: Higher Education in Scotland: A Baseline Report , the Scottish Funding Councils for further and higher education