All the poorer without free tuition

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THE main conclusion I draw from Professor Sheila ­Riddell’s excellent review of access to our universities (Perspective, 30 May) is this: free tuition is a necessary but not a ­sufficient condition for ­widening educational opportunities.

It is not an argument, as your leader (same edition) suggests, for a wholesale ­review of universal benefits such as free prescriptions, free tuition, free bus-passes and free personal care.

All of these provide a start to dealing with social problems such as traffic congestion, increased mobility for the elderly, health inequality and barriers to education.

They are not an all-purpose panacea for these issues. But they are preferable to wasteful means-testing, erosion of household incomes in time of recession, increased loneliness, and the sale of houses to provide some dignity in old age.

The question of limited access to our ancient universities has very complex roots. It is worth remembering that only 50 years ago Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews were the only universities in Scotland. For large swathes of the population they were seen as bastions of privilege. It will take more than the development of “sophisticated contextualised admissions policies” to break down these barriers.

Raising aspiration in deprived communities is a matter that has foxed politicians and sociologists since the second world war. Prof Riddell is right to focus on the way power is used to keep educational inequality in place. It is a long haul, but free tuition is just one way to help tackle it.

Bob Taylor

Glenrothes, Fife

DOES class, in the sense ­implied by Sheila ­Riddell’s analysis of educational ­attainment, really exist today? (Perspective, 30 May)

Recent research reported in The Scotsman (4 April) ­revealed a “distinctive elite” and “mass society” differentiated by money. This raises the problem of linking ­“social class based on ­income” to “participation in higher education”.

To present a statistical correlation doesn’t mean there is a causal connection.

Isn’t it the case that qualified pupils from “poorer areas” are more likely to choose university than those from “advantaged areas”?

Arguably it may be research into motivation is more apposite for understanding why people make educational choices.

Ellis Thorpe

Inverurie, Aberdeenshire