Scots eye wider intake

Glasgow Caledonian University last week hosted two major events aimed at increasing the numbers of students from less affluent backgrounds.

The first of a series of seminars on the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' widening access project was followed by a national conference on increasing participation, organised by the Scottish Office and Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

Tony Bruce, the CVCP's policy development director, said institutions must increase the numbers of students from less affluent backgrounds both in the interests of social justice and also "for reasons of self-interest".

The CVCP project, which will conclude with a policy conference in London in October, is aimed at young people from lower socioeconomic groups. It is led by Maggie Woodrow, executive director of the European Access Network, who has picked 16 institutions with successful access strategies and plans to promote these across the sector.

The regional seminar looked at the four Scottish examples. Ms Woodrow had found that the Scots favoured summer schools and that education guidance was targeted at low-participation groups.

"Current United Kingdom practice tends to target mature or non-standard entrants rather than specific socio-economic groups," she said. "But there is a long history of groups that find it relatively easy to get into university taking over strategies that were designed for those who are under-represented."

Outreach to schools by non-academics was repeatedly praised at both events. John Fellows, an Edinburgh University student volunteer for the Lothians Equal Access Programme for Schools, said pupils in schools with no tradition of higher education had very narrow perceptions of students being "brainy and posh, not like them". The barriers could only be broken by letting them hear accounts from students with similar backgrounds.

Former Hearts footballer John Colqhoun, rector of Edinburgh University, advised: "Try to involve more sportsmen and women and musicians, people who've got social standing with kids, and then let the academics come in behind."

There was a welcome for Scottish education minister Brian Wilson's announcement of Pounds 6 million to boost higher education access by lower income part-time students.

But Tom Schuller, director of continuing education at Edinburgh University, said the emphasis should not be just on degrees. There must also be support for students on Higher National Certificate and Diploma courses, who would not necessarily progress to a degree. This was where the real expansion would take place.

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