Universities need to help poorer Scots pupils win places

Edinburgh University's Old College building. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Edinburgh University's Old College building. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Universities in Scotland must make it clearer to bright youngsters from poorer backgrounds what they need to do in order to earn a place, the Commissioner for Fair Access has said.

Professor Sir Peter Scott said universities should spell out what “weighting” is given to consideration of background.

He said: “I do think it is extremely important that people have a good understanding that, if people do have a marker of some kind, an indicator, what weight is going to be attached to that?

“Does it guarantee them an interview? Does it guarantee a place? Or does it simply guarantee them some rather nebulous ‘extra’ consideration?

“I think that should be made as clear as possible.”

He acknowledged this would have limits as acceptance decisions are made on an individual basis by universities. He added: “The problem is that the current system can be a bit opaque, a bit obscure for someone actually applying for a place, or the people advising them.

“The greater transparency we can have the better.”

Sir Peter was appointed commissioner in December 2016 as part of a Scottish Government drive to have 20 per cent of new entrants to higher education from the most deprived parts of Scotland by 2030.

His first report in the role in December 2017 said that while progress had been steady current momentum “may not be sufficient” to meet the benchmark. And he told Holyrood’s education committee yesterday the Scottish Government is yet to formally respond to the report’s recommendations, which include a review on the number of funded places. A ministeral statement on the issue is expected next week.

He praised the Scotland’s “success” in higher education, saying there is “very little to apologise for”.

He highlighted that Scotland has the highest rate of participation in the UK at 56 per cent but stressed there is more to be done.

Sir Peter told MSPs that students from deprived areas are less likely to stay until second year, more likely to obtain a general degree rather than honours, less likely to get a first or a 2:1 and less likely to get a graduate job.

He said: “There’s a very complex picture of discrimination and disadvantage at play here and I do think that needs to be taken into account in terms of access.

“Just getting people admitted and then leaving it – that’s not enough.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the administration expects a ministerial statement on the commissioner’s fair access report to be made “shortly”.