Don't blame universities for poorer students not having qualifications for entry

The UCAS report showing that the number of students from poorer backgrounds gaining entry to Scottish universities has gone down must make uncomfortable reading for the SNP (The Scotsman June 9).

Nicola Sturgeon’s response makes not only uncomfortable, but alarming, reading. She will ascertain if the universities are doing enough to widen access and if not then she will “use the statutory powers to make sure that they do more”. In other words, she will force them to increase the intake of poorer students! Is she not guilty of shooting the messenger? Whatever the cause of the decline in numbers, the blame is surely not to be laid at the feet of the universities. How can they be held responsible if applicants do not meet the criteria?

And presumably, forcing the universities to “do more” means forcing them to lower their entry qualifications for disadvantaged applicants. This looks more like manipulating the statistics rather than seeking a solution to the problem. Isn’t the solution to intervene at an earlier stage to ensure that prospective students from poorer backgrounds are assisted in their quest for a better education and to achieve better qualifications?

Colin Hamilton

Braid Hills Avenue, Edinburgh

Dr Peter M Dryburgh misreads Dr Anne Mullen, vice-principal of St Andrews University, whose letter clearly placed responsibility on schools to enable those from the poorest areas to obtain the grades necessary for university success (Letters, 11 June). She supported the Scottish Government’s priority of closing the attainment gap, and confirmed her university’s pledge to “meeting the government halfway” by guaranteeing a place to all pupils applying from such areas who achieve those grades.

That is very welcome, and should now encourage Fife Council to commit in the same spirit to meeting the university halfway (at least) by accepting its offer of an excellent site on its science campus for the new secondary school urgently needed for North-East Fife’s catchment area.

That would forge a close relationship between the two bodies unique in Scotland, promoting new generations of students literate not only in science but in all disciplines, and from all backgrounds, but particularly from those who would otherwise never have considered themselves university material.

It could also serve as a model for future partnerships between schools, universities, colleges and industry, enabling our brightest youngsters to reach their potential, and closing the apparent attainment gaps we suffer nationally in an increasingly competitive 21st-century global environment; a “win-win” indeed.

John Birkett

Horseleys Park, St Andrews,Fife