What is the gap in university applications for the most and least advantaged in Scotland?

12 May 2017
What was claimed

You are 2.5 times more likely to apply to university if you are wealthy than if you are disadvantaged in England. The same figure is 3.5 times in Scotland.

Our verdict

Incorrect if you are looking at university application rates but pretty much correct for 2016 university entry rates (both focused on 18 year olds). Some care needs to be taken over these comparisons because of differences between higher education data in Scotland and England.

"So if you come from a wealthy family in Scotland, you are 3.5 times more likely to apply to university through the UCAS system than if you are a disadvantaged student….You are 2.5 times more likely to apply if you are wealthy in the UK, in England, than disadvantaged. In Scotland it is 3.5 times. So what we are seeing here is that the policy of free tuition has not had the desired result."

Merryn Somerset Webb, 11 May 2017

There are two ways to look at this that we’re aware of, both of which focus on 18 year olds.  There are also some flaws with UCAS’ data on Scottish education, which means that comparisons with England should be done cautiously. We’ve written more about that here.

The claim is pretty much correct when it comes to how many students have been offered a university place from a particular group.

UCAS university entry rates for 18 year olds in the most advantaged areas in Scotland were 3.5 times that of young people in the most disadvantaged areas in 2016, while in England young people in the most advantaged areas were 2.4 times as likely to attend university.

The claim is incorrect when it comes to application rates—how many people apply to university from a particular group and what Ms Somerset Webb appears to be referring to in the claim. Ms Somerset Webb is getting back to us to confirm what evidence she was referring to.

The 2017 university application rate of 18 year olds living in the most advantaged areas in England was about 2.3 times that of students in the most disadvantaged areas.

In Scotland, students in the most advantaged areas were about 2.6 times as likely to apply to university in 2017 than those in the most disadvantaged areas.

Removing tuition fees in Scotland doesn’t seem to have “given Scotland any specific advantage...in relation to increasing overall levels of participation or participation by more disadvantaged groups”, says the Sutton Trust. It said increased competition for places, due to not having enough university places to meet demand, has had a particularly bad effect on students from the most deprived backgrounds.

This is specifically in relation to university access. A substantial number of disadvantaged students study higher education in colleges in Scotland, and aren’t reflected in these figures, which is one of the reasons why comparing university access in Scotland and England is tricky.


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