All Scottish universities should take a student’s background into account, as well as their grades, to attract more youngsters from working-class backgrounds, a report commissioned by the Scottish Government has suggested.
The interim report of the Commission of Widening Access, chaired by Dame Ruth Silver, cited evidence suggesting poor students who entered higher education with lower grades performed well when compared with those from better-off backgrounds at university.
Some universities already do accept youngsters from deprived backgrounds with lower grades, but the Commission report suggests rolling this out across Scotland.
It said: “There is an increasingly compelling evidence base which shows that pupils who achieve modestly lower grades in more challenging circumstances consistently operate to the same, or an even better, academic standard than their more advantaged, higher attaining peers.
“This suggests that the applicant pool may be unnecessarily, and unfairly, narrowed by an over-reliance on pure attainment, measured in terms of grades, as the primary measure of academic ability.
“It is therefore worth exploring whether all universities should develop a robust contextual admissions policy. The benefit to equal access is that the participation of students from disadvantaged communities in these institutions would likely grow even stronger, potentially drawing in students who would otherwise be left outside the system.”
Contextual admissions are defined as those using additional information, including school performance data and candidates’ economic background, to provide context for university applications.
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “Entry to university must always be based on merit and on the academic potential of the student, irrespective of their social background.
“That is why it is so important that universities and the Scottish Funding Council set outcomes agreements which will ensure that those students from poorer backgrounds have more opportunities than ever before.
“Of course, the best way to widen access to university is to narrow the attainment gap in schools and ensure that many more pupils meet the required entry standards for our higher education institutions. That is what the SNP government has singularly failed to do.”
Education secretary Angela Constance said: “We want every child, whatever their background, to have an equal chance of benefiting from higher education.