Call for universities to boost efforts over access

Alan Milburn was speaking at Springburn Academy in Glasgow. Picture: PA
Alan Milburn was speaking at Springburn Academy in Glasgow. Picture: PA
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SCOTLAND’S universities must “redouble their efforts” on widening access, the Westminster government’s social mobility tsar has warned.

Speaking in Glasgow yesterday, the former Labour minister Alan Milburn, now chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, said there was a “very long way to go” before higher education was representative of wider society.

In a speech at Springburn Academy, he said: “Today, the most advantaged 20 per cent of young people are still seven times more likely to attend university as the 40 per cent most disadvantaged.

“Scotland has the lowest levels of the poorest students at university in the UK. Barely 27 per cent of students in 2011-12 were from working class backgrounds. That rate has decreased over the last ten years, so we can’t assume the problem will get better.

“As a consequence, universities will need to redouble their efforts to ensure they are genuinely open to all those with talent and potential.

“Collectively, universities are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on outreach activity, often in schools, aimed at widening participation. That money needs to be better spent on proven initiatives that get more working-class children into university. And universities need to examine their admissions processes so that they admit those with the biggest potential as well as those with the best grades.”

Mr Milburn welcomed the use of contextual admissions, under which universities take into account an applicant’s background, rather than just their exam grades.