Alarm over inequality

February 12, 1999

Ronald Crawford, of the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, claims that the recent research by Bob Osborne on the relative chances of working-class students entering higher education institutions in Scotland and the rest of the UK is contradicted by research of mine that was cited by the Garrick report (Letters, THES, February 5). He also claims that Professor Osborne's work is statistically flawed.

Neither of these claims is warranted. My research made no claims about HE institutions. It was simply about higher education as a whole. Therefore it could not distinguish between entry to HE courses in FE colleges and entry to HEIs. Professor Osborne's work is able to make this distinction.

Moreover, my research did not compare Scotland with the rest of the UK; Professor Osborne's does. The Garrick report's citing of my research is, in fact, deeply flawed in ways that led me to doubt its understanding of the issues (for example, at one point the elementary error is made of confusing inflows and outflows).

As to the quality of Osborne's work: his paper in the journal Scottish Affairs was refereed in the usual way and both referees recommended publication - Osborne acknowledges the provisional nature of his conclusions, based as they are on Universities and Colleges Admissions Service social class data. But that same data has been regularly used for many years as a way of monitoring social inequalities in access. His results ought certainly to give cause for concern about the capacity of Scottish HEIs to attract working-class entrants. They certainly do not warrant any further claims that Scottish HEIs are distinguished by their social openness.

Lindsay Paterson Professor of educational policy, University of Edinburgh

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