University of Glasgow | Credit David Simpson & iStock

Fact check: Jo Swinson’s claim on education inequality

Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Jo Swinson was the centre of controversy  over university education during an episode of BBC Question Time.

The East Dunbartonshire MP made a claim about the attainment gap between different areas in Scotland, which led to criticism from Scottish Government ministers and Nicola Sturgeon.

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it to be Mostly False.


Increasing access to university has been a stated part of the strategy of the SNP government at Holyrood, and the number of entrants has increased. The chief policy change that the party brought in was scrapping the endowment fund, which meant an end to university tuition fees.

Jo Swinson criticised the varying levels of university attendance between areas in Scotland, stating that the Govan area of Glasgow had a very low level of university enrolment compared to “one of the towns” in her constituency, East Dunbartonshire.

The figure of four per cent going to university comes from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), which is the Scottish Government tool to identify how areas in Scotland are affected by deprivation.

One of these is Education, Skills and Training, which uses data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The SIMD index divides Govan and Linthouse into seven different areas.

Looking at the index from 2016, the area had around 3 per cent of 17-21s enrolled in university degree courses averaged over the last three years of data. The specific area of Govan referenced by Jo Swinson was provided to Ferret Fact Service, and showed a four per cent rate of 17-21s at university.

There are a number of problems with using the SIMD data in this way. The latest report was released in 2016, and uses data gathered over the previous three years on the percentage of 17-21 year olds enrolling in a first degree course (2012/13 to 2014/15). The data is therefore not completely up to date.

It also does not take into account the circumstances of 17-21 year olds in the area. Many 17 year olds, for example, will still be in school. Others may delay further study until they are older, only going to university in their 20s or later in life.

This claim was disputed by Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken, who claimed that in fact 23 per cent went to university last year from Govan High School, the only high school in the area. However, this appears to be a figure relating to all higher education.

Higher education includes colleges and training that does not take place within universities, and Glasgow City Council confirmed that 13.2 per cent of pupils went to university specifically.

This data also cannot be taken as definitive.

According to Glasgow City Council, the Govan area is at least partially served by Lourdes Secondary School, which 44.97 per cent go into Higher education. However, there are no figures available that show how many attend this Roman Catholic school from the Govan area. The school itself is not in Govan, instead located in nearby Cardonald. The statistics also do not take into account those who attend fee-paying schools outwith Govan.

While Jo Swinson’s claim about Govan was based on official data, there are no statistics currently available that give a full picture of the proportion of those from such a small area going to university. Data from local secondary schools or the SIMD gives an indication of differences within Glasgow, but any figures should be treated with caution.

Swinson also makes reference to 80 per cent of pupils going to university from one of the towns in her constituency, which is East Dunbartonshire. The Scottish Liberal Democrats did not provide evidence to support this when contacted by Ferret Fact Service, and this is not replicated in any of the data in the SIMD database, which gives a high point of 34 per cent for areas in that council area (Barloch in Milngavie).

According to school leaver data, 64 per cent those school leavers in East Dunbartonshire going to a positive destination in 2017/18 went on to higher education.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly False

Jo Swinson’s point on inequality in higher education was partly based on figures from the Scottish Government, but the specific percentage she used for Govan’s university entry is out of date and is not a complete measure. Her figure for university entry in her own constituency, East Dunbartonshire was incorrect.

This claim is Mostly False

Mostly False – The claim may contain a kernel of truth but leaves out facts which lead one to a different impression.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at or join our Facebook group.

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