A national target for widening access to further and higher education in Scotland has been met ahead of time, a report says.
The target for those in the 20% most deprived areas to make up 16% of people starting a full-time degree course was met in the 2019/20 academic year, according to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).
A Scottish Government commission had previously aimed for the 16% target to be met in 2021.
Figures released on Wednesday also show that at an overall tertiary education level, 21.4% of entrants on to full-time undergraduate higher education courses came from the 20% most deprived areas.
In colleges, the 2019-20 figures show that more than 25% of those starting higher education courses came from the 20% most deprived communities.
SFC director of access James Dunphy said: “Widening access to higher education is incredibly important because it can disrupt cycles of deprivation and level up opportunities for under-represented groups in our society.
“We should celebrate the progress reflected in this report.
“However, the pandemic and the real-life experiences of students remind us that circumstances can change very quickly and that we need to constantly redefine the challenges of widening access and design systems that can flex to them.”
Higher education minister Jamie Hepburn said: “All learners should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential regardless of background or circumstances, so it is great to see the number of Scots from the most deprived areas at university hit a record high in 2019-20.
“By exceeding the widening access interim target early, our universities continue to demonstrate their progress in admitting students based on their potential, and not just past academic achievement.”