Lower entry requirements for poorer students, says Scottish panel

Commission for Widening Access calls for ‘entrenched patterns of advantage’ to be broken down

March 14, 2016
Man jumping between rocks against sunset

Scottish universities should be required to set lower entry requirements for students from deprived backgrounds, a major review of admissions has concluded.

The final report of the Commission on Widening Access acknowledges that introducing contextual grade thresholds in a system in which undergraduate numbers are capped might lead to the “displacement of other applicants”.

But it argues that disadvantaged students faced a “much more difficult” route to getting the grades for entering higher education, and that enrolment was therefore being “unnecessarily, and unfairly” limited by an overreliance on school attainment as the primary measure of academic ability, especially when there was “increasingly compelling evidence” that such students could match or outperform their more affluent peers once they get to university.

One option would be to expand universities but, if any more privileged students are forced out, they could consider taking a vocational pathway or a higher level apprenticeship, the report says.

“If we are serious about achieving a fairer Scotland, this will require some movement across the system and a breaking down of entrenched patterns of advantage…we do not take the view that higher education in university is the best or only option in Scotland; nevertheless it has to be an option that is available to people from all parts of our society,” the report says.

Sir Pete Downes, the convenor of Universities Scotland and principal of the University of Dundee, said that the proposed approach to entry requirements would be “challenging” for universities.

Lower entry thresholds would not operate as an entitlement to enrolment, in the first instance at least, with universities retaining the autonomy to refuse students if there was good reason to do so. However, if the measure does not have the desired effect, ministers should consider making it an entitlement, the report says.

The commission, made up of sector leaders including two university principals, also recommends that the Scottish government appoints a commissioner for fair access, similar to the role held by Les Ebdon in England.

It says that a current “lack of strategic overview” was at the root of several problems in widening participation in Scotland, and that giving responsibility for holding all parts of the system to account would be beneficial.

In another recommendation, the commission says that all care leavers who meet entry requirements should be guaranteed an offer of a place at a Scottish university, and that they should be offered a government bursary, instead of a living costs loan.

The commission also recommends a series of targets, with a view to ensuring that students from the 20 per cent most deprived backgrounds should represent 20 per cent of higher education entrants by 2030. Currently, they represent 13.7 per cent, compared with the 29.2 per cent share held by the richest 20 per cent.

Angela Constance, the Scottish education secretary, said that she would immediately accept the recommended targets, and would give the other 33 recommendations “careful consideration”.

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree

Felipe Fernández-Armesto takes issue with a claim that the EU has been playing the sovereignty card in Brexit negotiations

Man throwing axes

UCU attacks plans to cut 171 posts, but university denies Brexit 'the reason'

Kenny Dalglish

Agnes Bäker and Amanda Goodall have found that academics who are happiest at work have a head of department who is a distinguished researcher. How can such people be encouraged into management?

A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump