PUPILS from poorer backgrounds are struggling to achieve the grades they need to get to university, new figures show.

According to a report by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) only 32 per cent of pupils from the poorest communities achieve at least one Higher at school while fewer than seven per cent achieve an Advanced Higher.

In contrast 45 per cent of those from the most affluent backgrounds are awarded at least one Higher and 38 per cent go on to get an Advanced Higher.

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The SFC report states: "To enter higher education, pupils are generally required to attain more than one Higher or Advanced Higher.

"When looking at the students from the most deprived backgrounds ... only 38.6 per cent of pupils achieved at least one award at these levels. Among the pupils from the least deprived backgrounds 83.2 per cent do so."

The figures highlight the difficulty universities have in opening up places to pupils from poorer backgrounds, who tend to do less well at school because of the impact of poverty on their lives.

The Scottish Government wants all institutions to lower entry grades for poorer pupils so they reflect the minimum academic requirements.

Professor Sheila Riddell, from Edinburgh University's school of education, said another crucial issue for schools was ensuring pupils had access to the subjects needed to apply for particular university courses.

She said: "Overall, young people from affluent backgrounds continue to take the lion’s share of places in the most selective universities.

"To change this pattern, universities need to be far more generous in the offers they make to students from less advantaged backgrounds.

"At the same time, all schools need to ensure that all pupils have access to the basic academic subjects which lie at the heart of Scottish comprehensive education.

"While widening access programmes may be valuable for individual pupils, by themselves they can only make marginal changes to the ingrained patterns of advantage and disadvantage which continue to characterise Scottish education."

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: "This shows the scale of the challenge that schools and universities both face.

"The figures confirm big gaps between the number of school leavers from the poorest and wealthiest areas achieving the very minimum qualifications required for university.

"We all need to work together to reduce that if we are to significantly change the profile of entrants to university. That is something that universities are committed to."

The SFC report showed there has been a gradual increase in both the number and proportion of undergraduate entrants to university coming from Scotland’s most deprived areas over the past four years. However, drop-out rates for students from poorer backgrounds are higher.

In further education the SFC said colleges continued to have success in delivering provision to students from the most deprived areas.

But the report adds: "Despite their success in recruiting students from the most deprived backgrounds, more focus should be paid to ensuring these students achieve as well as students from the least deprived areas.

"There are significant disparities between the successful completion rates of those from the most deprived communities for both further education and higher education."