A vast majority of students applying to Abertay University considered deprived by Scottish Government standards are not actually disadvantaged, the institution’s principal has warned.
The University pioneered the use of lower entrance grades for students deemed eligible under the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), which considers factors such as poorer postcode areas, and other indicators.
Professor Nigel Seaton described SIMD as “too uncertain a measure” in determining alone which students should be admitted on lower thresholds after the University’s own approach found significant discrepancies in the challenges facing applicants.
He said just one-third of students applying to Abertay from the lowest-scoring areas were disadvantaged “in terms of their own personal circumstances” and only around one-third of disadvantaged applicants live in the poorest 20% of SIMD postcodes.
Mr Seaton said: “It is important to recognise that this approach works best when it is tailored to the individual, using a range of indicators, rather than simply being based on the location of the student’s home.
“At Abertay, these indicators include attending a school where few pupils go on to university, having parents or guardians who have not attended university, having spent time in care, and having taken part in a university access programme.”
The SIMD system, which plays a central role in evaluating the Scottish Government’s efforts to close the poverty-related attainment gap, has been criticised by opposition parties as “deeply flawed” and “only partially successful”.
Mr Seaton argued individual students should not be made an offer “simply because of where they live, but rather after taking a full view of their personal circumstances”.
He described SIMD as a “perfectly good indicator for use in public policy” but said he would like to see “more varied measures” taken into account wherever possible when widening access has been identified as an ongoing concern.
Professor Sir Peter Scott, Scotland’s Commissioner for Fair Access, said he also hoped measurement of disadvantage will be updated.
“Work is already under way to refine the best way of identifying the most disadvantaged applicants,” he said.
“The emerging consensus seems to be to combine residence in an SIMD area and eligibility for free school meals to target community-based deprivation and individuals who are themselves deprived wherever they live.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said SIMD data was currently the best measure available to support fair access work.
He added: “We recognise there is merit in using additional measures alongside SIMD which is why we established an Access Data Working Group which has been working closely with the sector to consider what other measures might be useful such as registration for free school meals.”