Student participation rates and trends

2.53 More students than ever before are now entering higher education in Scotland. These students are of increasingly variable ages, come from a range of backgrounds and have diverse expectations and requirements of higher education. To meet these needs, Scottish higher education providers have become more responsive and flexible, offering students a wide range of choices with respect to access, available subjects of study, location of study, and mode and structure of study.

2.54 Annex G provides a summary of statistical data on participation in Scottish higher education in 1994/95. The tables referred to in this section of the report can be found in this Annex. Data in the Annex have been drawn together from a wide range of sources, including the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department (SOEID). However, due to differences in definition and data collection requirements across these and other sources of data, the attempt to develop a single, holistic database proved to be difficult, even when considering a single academic year. We believe that in future data of this kind should become routinely available and be analysed to facilitate more effective institutional usage.

Age Participation Index (API)27 - Table 1
2.55 Participation in education, regardless of level, has for some years been higher in Scotland than in England or Wales. Indeed, the overall higher education participation rates in Scotland are closer to international competitors than elsewhere in the UK.28 Many factors contribute to this comparatively high rate of participation, such as the general belief in Scottish society in the benefits of education, both for its own sake and for wider social and economic reasons. Another contributing factor may be the long-standing democratic tradition of educational access in Scotland.

2.56 Between 1987/88 and 1995/96 the total API in Scotland more than doubled from 20.5 per cent to 44.2 per cent. For women, the growth in the participation was even greater, rising from 20.4 per cent to 48.8 per cent over the same period. The SOEID estimates that the API will continue to rise over the next 10 years, albeit more slowly, to approximately 50 per cent by 2007-2008.

Student enrolment patterns - Table 2
2.57 In 1994/95, almost 217,000 higher education students were enrolled in undergraduate and postgraduate study in Scotland's higher education and further education sectors. Nearly 84 per cent of these students were undergraduates. Slightly more than 57 per cent of all full-time and part-time undergraduate students were enrolled in Scottish universities, while a significant proportion, nearly 30 per cent of all undergraduate students, were undertaking a programme of higher education study at a further education college.

2.58 Almost 30 per cent of all undergraduate students in Scotland study on a part-time basis. Of these students, 78.7 per cent were enrolled in a further education college or the Scottish Open University. Eight per cent of undergraduate students enrolled in pre-1992 universities were studying part time.

2.59 There were over 35,000 postgraduate students in Scotland in 1994/95. More than 40 per cent of these students were enrolled in old universities, while two per cent were enrolled in further education colleges. Approximately 56 per cent of postgraduate students study on a part-time basis. The greatest concentration of part-time postgraduate students was in the old universities, where over 64 per cent of postgraduate students study on a part-time basis. The comparative figure for ancient universities is about 32 per cent and, for 1992 universities, 48 per cent. All postgraduate students enrolled at the Open University in Scotland study on a part-time basis.

2.60 The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department (SOEID) estimates that the number of higher education undergraduates in Scotland will continue to grow modestly for the next 10 years. Projections prepared by the SOEID show that by the year 2000, there will be approximately 152,000 full-time undergraduates in Scottish higher education. This represents an increase of over 24,000 students from 1994/95. These same projections anticipate a small decline in full-time postgraduate students by the year 2000 from the 1994/95 enrolment levels.29

Age at entry - Tables 3-4
2.61 Students of all ages are now entering higher education in Scotland in greater numbers than ever before. Over 64 per cent of full-time entrants to Scottish higher education institutions are between the ages of 17 and 20. By contrast, about 83 per cent of part-time undergraduate students are aged 21 and over

2.62 Trends in participation show that younger students tend to enter Scottish higher education on a full-time basis and that mature students tend to enter higher education on a part-time basis. This pattern emerges irrespective of institution type, although the tendency is not quite as stark in further education colleges where less than 50 per cent of full-time students are 20 years old or younger.

2.63 Projections of full-time undergraduate participation by age category show moderate growth with over 3,000 additional places for students under 21 years by the year 2000, rising to nearly 4,500 additional places by 2007/2008.30 Projected growth in full-time participation by older age groups is anticipated to be modest by comparison. The SOEID expects an increase of only 1,000 in full-time enrolments through to the year 2007/2008.31

Gender - Tables 5-6
2.64 Women now comprise almost half of all full-time higher education enrolments in Scotland and 46 per cent of part-time enrolments. However, there is considerable variation in the distribution of gender by type of institution as well as by subject. For example, men comprise nearly 55 per cent of full-time student enrolment at old universities, rising to nearly 60 per cent of part-time enrolments at these institutions. By comparison, women make up over 76 per cent of full-time student enrolments at colleges of education, although this percentage drops slightly when considering part-time enrolments.

Qualification on entry - Tables 7-8
2.65 Most students entering higher education institutions in Scotland do so with Highers or a combination of Highers and other qualifications including the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (CSYS) and A levels. However, there is significant variation across institution types. Almost 56 per cent of entrants to ancient universities have Highers plus Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (CSYS) or A level qualifications. At the old universities, this figure is just under 42 per cent. By comparison, over 55 per cent of 1992 university entrants have Highers without CSYS. This percentage rises to 74 per cent in colleges of education. Nearly 35 per cent of students pursuing higher education through further education colleges do so with 'other' qualifications that include Scottish/National Vocational Qualifications (S/NVQ) and National Certificates.

2.66 Data on the highest entry qualification of Scottish-domiciled students known to be entering higher education directly from school show that most students in this sub-group choose to enter higher education at the age of 18. It also shows that while over 90 per cent of this age group obtains Highers, nearly half did not obtain a CSYS qualification.

Student domicile - Tables 9-10
2.67 All Scottish higher education providers attract a high proportion of Scottish-domiciled full-time undergraduate students. The range is nearly 60 per cent at the ancient universities to nearly 98 per cent at the further education colleges. Significantly, the old universities and 'other' higher education institutions attract upward of 23 per cent of their students from across the UK.

2.68 The distribution of postgraduate students in terms of home domicile is more widespread with many postgraduate students, particularly in the ancient universities, attracting students from within the European Union (EU) and beyond.

Subjects of study and gender - Table 11
2.69 Students in higher education institutions undertake a broad range of studies. Whilst the greatest concentration of these students are studying Business Administration, this represented only 15 per cent of all students in higher education institutions. By comparison, over 42 per cent of higher education students in further education colleges were enrolled on Business Administration programmes.

2.70 Women are well-represented in most discipline areas with particularly substantial participation in Subjects Allied to Medicine, Education and Languages. Women continue to be less well-represented in some subjects including Engineering and Technology (14.2 per cent) and Maths and Computing (25 per cent). A similar distribution of gender by subject of study can be found in further education colleges.

Qualifications of graduates - Table 12
2.71 In 1994/95, more than 53,000 students graduated with a higher education qualification from a Scottish higher education provider. Nearly 65 per cent of these qualifications were earned at a higher education institution; the remainder were earned in further education colleges. Over 93 per cent of the qualifications earned in a higher education institution were at the first degree level or higher. Of the first degrees awarded, 40 per cent were First Class or Upper Second Class degrees.

2.72 It is also important to note that in 1994/95 nearly 17,000 or 31.7 per cent of all higher education awards earned in Scotland, were at the HND and HNC level. These awards are most often offered by further education colleges although some 1992 universities award these qualifications.

Social class participation - Table 13
2.73 We considered enrolment patterns of Scottish-domiciled students by social class on a regional and institutional basis. Work commissioned in this area suggests that higher education students appear to be from better-off families, regardless of their region of origin. The data suggest that social class differences may be greatest for students in the west of Scotland with particularly poor participation rates in urban areas. The evidence also suggests that more higher education students from the least affluent families enrol in further education colleges.32

2.74 Nevertheless, in Scotland, there appears to be a trend towards greater participation by students from social classes III, IV and V. Evidence of this trend is documented at Table 13, which draws upon data from the Scottish School Leavers' Survey. It shows that in 1980 only 4 per cent of school leavers entering higher education had fathers that were classified in social classes III (skilled non-manual/skilled manual), IV, V and unclassified. By 1994, the percentage had risen to 15 per cent for the group.33

This statistical profile demonstrates that Scottish higher education is attracting an increasing number of students with diverse expectations and backgrounds. More students than ever before are qualifying and entering higher education making Scotland's participation rates closer to international competitors than anywhere else in the UK. An increasingly significant proportion of these students are mature entrants. Students are studying an ever-widening choice of subjects and courses that are increasingly being provided on a flexible basis to meet their needs and interests. Further education institutions have played a full and significant part in providing this wider access to higher education. There has also been much success in widening participation to students from social classes III, IV and V, although we believe that more can still be achieved.