Scots proud of classless tradition

February 5, 1999

The article "Scots class myth debunked" (THES, January 29) has to be read with caution.

First, I can reassure anxious Scottish readers who are probably asking themselves how, if Bob Osborne is right about social exclusion and Sir Ron Garrick and his team of advisers were consequently wrong, we can have any confidence in figures relating to Scottish higher education participation.

The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, using figures assembled by Lindsay Paterson then of Moray House Institute, told the Garrick committee that it seemed that Scotland was "closing the gap" in terms of the ability of Scottish higher education institutions to attract an increasing proportion of entrants from social groups III to V.

Garrick went much further in claiming that Scotland was better in that department than any of the other countries of the UK. Unfortunately he did not cite any supporting statistical evidence - least of all Paterson's conclusions.

Now it seems we have Osborne affirming that, far from the Scots outstripping the rest, in real terms they are significantly behind the rest. According to your report, Paterson, now of the University of Edinburgh, has thrown himself behind Osborne's hypothesis.

Coshep is much bemused by Osborne's conclusions. We have challenged the method and the outcome of his study - with particular reference to the statistical analysis in his appendix - and we have informed the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals as main sponsors that until more work is done on verification of his methodology we shall remain sceptical of his conclusions. Consequently we cannot allow our name to continue to appear on the list of sponsors. We are not alone in taking this stance, as Professor Osborne is aware.

The Scottish higher education sector is proud of its enviable record in contributing to widening access and helping combat social exclusion.

We fully accept that much more needs to be done and that the greatest challenge lies in our major cities, where we have barely scratched the surface. But we firmly believe that the Osborne findings are unsafe and, if we are proved right, misrepresent one of the distinguishing characteristics of higher education in Scotland at a time when the Scottish Parliament is poised to scrutinise these trends with unusual vigilance.

Ronald Crawford

Secretary, Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, Glasgow

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