UNIVERSITIES which lower entry grades to help poorer students are being disadvantaged in prestigious league tables, a key official has warned.

Professor Peter Scott, Scotland’s Commissioner for Fair Access, said current rankings took no account of efforts to improve the social mix of higher education.

And universities who offer lower entry grades to talented pupils from poorer backgrounds can actually be marked down.

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Mr Scott called on league tables to take account of access programmes - and even suggested a new “fair access” table.

He said: “Perhaps those working to achieve fairer access, nationally and in institutions, should devise a separate fair access league table.

“No university wants to be at the bottom of any league table, and a fair access ranking would boost some institutions discriminated against in existing league tables.”

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, said academics were judged primarily on research outputs.

She added: “There are barely any performance frameworks that credit them for undertaking work critical to the widening access agenda.

“If we have to have league tables then it is important they look at all aspects of universities including fair access measures.”

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said: “Some league tables capture students’ average attainment on entry as part of their rankings.

“This means that lower entry requirements with the aim of widening access could adversely affect an institution’s ranking.”