Blocks on the path to uni for Falkirk pupils

The Scottish Government-backed scheme will fund 110 placements. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Scottish Government-backed scheme will fund 110 placements. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Fewer than a third of school leavers in the Falkirk area went on to study at university last year new figures show.

The figures place the district towards the bottom of the Scottish table as concerns are raised about access to higher education for those from deprived areas.

Young people in Falkirk East have a slightly higher chance (32.5 per cent) of attending university than those in the west (32 per cent).

But both areas rank low compared to others across the country - 49th and 54th respectively out of 74 Scottish Parliament constituencies.

The figures are contained in a National Union of Students (NUS) report, ‘Unlocking Scotland’s Potential’, and are based on the percentage of school leavers who went to university in 2010-11.

NUS Scottish president Robin Parker called on the Scottish Government to force universities to widen access for those from poorer backgrounds as school leavers from more affluent areas currently have a greater chance of gaining entry.

Just 15 per cent of youngsters classified as coming from deprived areas went on to higher education last year, with the Falkirk figure slightly lower at 13 per cent.

Mr Parker said: “While protecting free education, and improving student support, opens the door to achieving fair access, the Scottish Parliament must introduce legally binding and enforceable agreements to challenge our universities to do more.”

Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald said the Scottish Government has fulfilled its pledge to keep higher education free by abolishing fees and protecting places for Scottish students, and claimed the introduction of tuition fees in England is impacting negatively up here.

He added: “The number of people in Scotland applying to English universities has fallen by 15.7 per cent since last year, compared to a small reduction in applications from this group to Scottish universities of just 1.7 per cent.”

Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson believes Falkirk Council has to do more to ensure a greater number of children had the option of university after school.

He said: “In light of this report, further work needs to be done by the local authority to ensure children are going into university.”

Falkirk Council says the number of school leavers attending university has risen to a third from 24.5 per cent in 2005-06. Grades have also steadily improved with almost a quarter leaving with five or more highers compared to 16 per cent five years ago.

Raising aspirations in young people to consider higher education has been recognised as a “significant challenge” by the council and a number of strategies are being introduced to achieve this.

Councillor Alan Nimmo, convener of Falkirk Council education services, said: “The education of our young people is of paramount concern, both to myself as the education convener and the administration of Falkirk Council as a whole.

“We have made significant advances over the last few years in getting our young people into further education and employment.

“Our achievements in the area of young apprentices speak for themselves.”

He added: “Tackling youth unemployment is one of our top priorities and we have provided substantial financial resources in addition to those provided by the government to increase the level and diversity of opportunities available locally.”

Scottish universities 
could face financial penalties if they don’t provide better access programmes, such as summer schools, to encourage young people into thinking about higher education as an option.