ONLY one third of school pupils believe it is fair to allow poorer students into university with lower grades, a major survey into young people’s attitudes has found.

The study of 1,779 young people by Ipsos MORI also found one quarter were opposed to the idea.

However, 75 per cent of 17-year-olds believed it was important to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds get to university.

Loading article content

Overall, the survey, commissioned by Universities Scotland, showed a lot of uncertainty on the issue with only 55 per cent forming a definite view.

The poll was conducted at a time when all universities have agreed to lower entry grades for applicants from disadvantaged communities after pressure from the Scottish Government.

One of the difficulties universities face when trying to widen access is that pupils from poorer backgrounds tend not to do as well in school exams as middle class pupils because of the disruptive impact of poverty.

As a result they can find it difficult to enter higher education, particularly at the most prestigious universities where places are highly competitive.

However, the policy of adjusted offers is controversial because a consequence is the displacement of middle class students with higher grades - unless higher education is expanded.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said ensuring young people understood the complexities of the drive to widen access was crucial.

She said: “Young people clearly support widening access to people from poorer backgrounds with a significant majority feeling that something should be done.

“However, a large minority of young people have told us they don’t know how they feel about contextualised admissions.

“This reinforces how complicated this issue is and how confusing it can be for the very people that we intend to benefit.”

Universities Scotland said they intended to spend 2018 developing clearer information about university admissions with the involvement of pupils.

A spokesman for the UCU Scotland lecturers’ union said the country had a disappointing record on widening access.

He added: “We believe contextualised admissions are one approach that benefits students, but it’s clear universities have a job to do explaining them to young people.”

Jodie Waite, vice-president of student body NUS Scotland added: “It’s great to see Scotland’s young people are so supportive of making access to universities fairer.

“Despite this level of support, recent figures show progress being made far too slowly or, worse still, going in the wrong direction altogether.”

Overall, the survey showed young people in Scotland were clear about their future with 87 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds knowing what they wanted to do after school.

A total of 43 per cent said they planned to go to university, but the results showed that young people living in the most affluent areas were significantly more likely than average to say they wanted to go to university.

The findings comes after a report by universities admissions service Ucas found application rates from 18-year-olds from the poorest parts of Scotland have dropped for the first time in a decade.

The data also showed the application rate for those in the most affluent communities had increased “widening the gap between the most and least”.

Higher education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville conceded there is “more work to do” to increase the number of Scots from deprived backgrounds who want to go on to higher education.

The Scottish Government has set a target for one fifth of students entering higher education by 2030 to be from Scotland’s 20 per cent most deprived communities.