Access elite: Stirling University

January 18, 2002

Academic staff: 575
Undergraduates: 5,320
Postgraduates: 1,425

Stirling University has two advantages: a glorious lochside campus and a remarkably flexible modular system.

It was a pioneer of innovation, attracting non-traditional entrants when it was set up in 1967, and staff and students continue to benefit from its two-semester year. Students can begin courses in February as well as in September.

Kelly-Anne Curran, students' association vice-president for welfare, said that the system allowed students to take a semester out, for health or financial reasons, without losing an entire year.

"It's such a weight off their minds, knowing they've just got to do one more semester at the end," she said. She warned that many might otherwise drop out completely.

Sandra Marshall, dean of arts, said the system boosted research, giving staff six weeks clear from teaching at Christmas. There is a rota for sabbaticals every five years, freeing academics from, for example, January to September.

Principal Colin Bell says: "It allows teaching and learning to be managed in ways that don't short-change students but make staff very effective. You can produce a coherent institution doing important social inclusion work and research at the highest level."

Stirling has gone for niche markets, focusing on the arts, social and human sciences, and not competing directly with other institutions. Students are admitted to the university, rather than to a faculty or department, which makes it relatively easy to change discipline. And they can take a credit-bearing course in career planning, including personality and psychometric testing, which would cost a four-figure sum through a private agency.

A campus job shop tackles student hardship by advertising 15-hour a week contracts.

The university targets local schools and further education colleges to widen access, but has no single catchment area.

Gordon Love of the recruitment and admissions service said: "We have small numbers of students from a large number of areas, which means we have to have a very personal approach in recruitment."

A residential university risks attracting a disproportionate number of better-off students.

Doris Littlejohn, chair of court, said different grades of room were offered at different rents. "When we review them, if we have to get an overall increase, we increase the expensive ones by a bigger proportion."

Guide to THES access elite stories

   Scaling the heights: THES access elite table
  Poor face a steep climb
  Jacks of all trades pave the  way to participation
  Leader: Institutions hold trump cards in widening access
  Sheffield Hallam university
  Strathclyde university
  Institutions attacked for bias against poor
  Hard-up white men continue to elude recruiters
  US offers cash to lure poor to college

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