Comparisons between disadvantaged English and Scottish students are tricky

Published: 6th Oct 2017

In brief


Students from a deprived background in Scotland are half as likely to go to university as those from England.


This is probably a reasonable claim, though the comparison is a bit tricky. It also doesn’t account for the substantial amount of higher education provided by further education colleges in Scotland.

“In Scotland if you’re from a deprived background you’re half as likely to get into university as you are in England.”

Fraser Nelson, 5 October 2017

It’s roughly correct to say that 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland are about half as likely to go to university as 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas in England. There are some problems with the way this is measured though which makes the comparison tricky.

About 10.7% of 18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds in Scotland went into full-time undergraduate courses compared to 19.5% in England in 2016. Disadvantage here is measured by how many people in the local area a student comes from go to university, rather than other forms of disadvantage.

There are problems with the way this is measured

First, fewer people live in the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland than those in England, which make comparing them tricky. Having said that, UCAS told us that measuring disadvantage in Scotland in other ways it is reasonable to say that students are about half as likely to go to university as their English counterparts. Though this isn’t measuring disadvantage in the two countries in the same way.

Secondly, around one third of young full-time undergraduate courses in Scotland are studied at higher education colleges, rather than universities. Many of these colleges don’t use the UCAS system so aren’t counted here. Students from the most deprived areas in Scotland are also overrepresented in these higher education colleges.

While we can use the UCAS figures to tell us roughly about the likelihood of young Scottish students from disadvantaged areas going to university compared to those in England, they don’t give us the full picture on those doing undergraduate degrees.

We’ve written about this in more detail here.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.


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