University faces access 'challenge'

St AndrewsA university has called for widespread effort to boost attainment levels among applicants from poorer backgrounds as it warned of the "considerable challenges" in broadening access.

The University of St Andrews - which has Scotland's toughest entry requirements - has been criticised for admitting just 14 students from the 20 most deprived Scottish areas in 2011, compared to an overall total of 482 Scottish student
However, the university said this was because so few young people from these areas are achieving basic university entry grades.

It said it faced a choice between significantly lowering academic entry standards to boost the number of students from deprived backgrounds, or deal with "continuing criticism for slow but steady progress".

From the general population, the university admits only one in every ten applicants, compared to one in four applicants from deprived areas.

St Andrews has pledged to increase the intake of students from the 20 most deprived areas by 45% in the coming year, alongside a range of other measures including increasing bursary support for Scottish students by £400,000.

Stephen Magee, vice-principal with responsibility for admissions at St Andrews, said: "We have a choice - we can continue to beat up our leading universities for failing to admit more kids from our most deprived areas, or we can start, without shame or blame, to ask if perhaps there is something going wrong throughout the whole equation.

"Our doors are open here in St Andrews. We have been doing contextualised admission for over seven years.

"We have comprehensive bursary, scholarship and personal support. We are out across the country in schools week in and week out doing our best to attract those with the most potential to come and study in Fife.

"This is not a question of any lack of commitment, will or investment in scholarships and bursaries on our part. We want Scotland's brightest here, regardless of background."
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