A daily newspaper’s front page exclusive sparked a parliamentary discussion on the same day.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was challenged at Holyrood after The Scotsman revealed on Thursday that Edinburgh University had accepted no students from non-deprived areas of Scotland across nine courses in 2022.
The story was broken by Scotsman deputy political editor Conor Matchett and subsequently raised at that afternoon’s First Minister’s Questions session.
Michael Marra, Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, criticised the Scottish National Party-led Scottish Government’s approach to higher education funding and said a “historic promise of a Scottish education” had been broken.
He said: “For 440 years, the University of Edinburgh has admitted among the best and brightest of Scotland; Walter Scott, Katherine Grainger, Stewart McDonald, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joanna Cherry, all great minds who worked hard and gained entry to study law here in our capital city.
“With funding frozen for 13 years and the SNP’s cap on Scottish students, the historic promise of a Scottish education is broken. After five centuries, First Minister, how has it come to this?”
In response, Ms Sturgeon said she was “gobsmacked” by the question and the fact it came from a Labour MSP and stated her belief that the figures were a “good thing”.
She added: “In my earlier days as First Minister, I used to be regularly criticised for the fact that there were too few people from deprived communities going to university. Now I appear to be being criticised for the fact that there are too many going to university.
“I don’t come from a deprived background, I come from a working-class background, I went to state school. When I studied law at Glasgow University, I was very much in the minority.
“I think it is really good news, within a context of a record number of young Scots at university, that we’re seeing more from the most deprived areas actually going to our universities.”
Figures obtained by Mr Marra, reported by Conor, showed none of the 555 Scottish students who were not considered to be disadvantaged were successful after applying to study law at Edinburgh in 2022.
In a leader column on the issue, The Scotsman said: “In rejecting every single application to study one of nine courses – including law, business and English literature – from a Scottish student who did not come from a deprived background, the University of Edinburgh is guilty of an extraordinary act of injustice.
“It is one which is patently unfair to hundreds of young people at the very start of their adult life whose futures are being blighted because of circumstances out of their control: their upbringing. If ‘privilege’ is now a sin, it is not theirs.
“The Scotsman has repeatedly written about the importance of closing the educational attainment gap between rich and poor because it is a source of injustice to those born into poverty.
“It is scandalous that people miss out on fulfilling their true potential and it also diminishes society as a whole, both economically and culturally.
“However, tackling one injustice by creating another is foolish, morally wrong and counterproductive. That this is being done by Edinburgh, one of the world’s most renowned universities, makes it all the more shocking.
“If this is indicative of the judgement of our finest institutions, heaven help us all.”