Scots warned to stay vigilant on inclusion

November 17, 2000

Universities must guard against complacency in the wake of performance indicators on social inclusion, a Scottish conference on widening access heard.

Bob Osborne, professor of applied policy studies at Ulster University, told the southeast Scotland wider access regional forum that it was not enough to have national benchmarks against which higher education institutions could compare themselves.

The regional forum, which includes Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, Napier and Stirling universities, Queen Margaret University College and Edinburgh College of Art, aims to forge links between higher and further education, schools and community organisations.

Professor Osborne said he was not criticising the performance indicators, but he warned that they "could end up lulling (institutions) into a false sense of security that they're doing a good job".

Institutions must monitor how effectively they are widening access to every faculty, campus and course, he said. And they must investigate what is being done in terms of special programmes to attract under-represented groups. The debate on access has focused on young people and social class, but institutions must broaden this to other areas such as gender, ethnicity and disability, Professor Osborne said.

"This has got to be led from the top, and each faculty board, for example, needs to have this issue as a standard agenda item to move it forward. They can think about setting targets, and how to go out in the community and build up partnerships to achieve them."

Professor Osborne attacked the notion that the need for a "diverse" higher education system meant that strong research universities need not get involved in widening access. "It's a job for the whole sector," he said.

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