Official statistics published by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) also show that entrants to colleges made up 37 per cent of the total undergraduate entrants in higher education, which is the highest proportion seen in the last 10 years.
Overall there were 285,450 students in higher education in Scotland in 2015/16, an increase of 1.5 per cent from the previous year and 2.1 per cent from 2006/07.
The SFC publication also shows that the number of Scottish domiciled entrants from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland represented 16.1 per cent of entrants to higher education; however this varied widely by institution: Colleges fared the best in this area with 23 per cent; Post-92 HEIs were at 15 per cent; Open University at 14 per cent; Newer Universities at 12 per cent; Specialised HEIs at 11 per cent; Ancient Universities at eight per cent and universities outside Scotland at seven per cent.
Welcoming the figures, Shirley-Anne Somerville, the minister for Further and Higher Education, said: “I am delighted to see an increase in higher education students in our colleges and universities and also to learn that we have a record high number of students gaining HE qualifications.
“Scotland has a world class higher education system based on the core principles of being free, fair and funded. These figures confirm the huge contribution that Scotland’s excellent colleges make to higher education.
“I am encouraged to see more entrants from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland accessing Higher Education. Although these figures show a variation between institutions still persists.
“Scotland is gifted with a wide range of world class universities for students to choose from and we need to make sure that all of our Higher Education Institutions are accessible.
“I am in no doubt that through our continued focus on widening access to HE and our work with our higher education institutions, we will continue to see improvements going forward, ensuring that all of our young people get an equal chance to get a world class education.”