Universities set to give poorer students priority

STUDENTS from failing schools and poorer backgrounds are to be given priority for university places under a plan aimed at widening access to Scotland’s higher education.

Picture: Jane Barlow

Children from low-income families or who have been in care would get preference under the shake-up of university entrance rules, meaning they could be offered places and special support even if their exam results do not meet the normal grades requirements.

Most universities already operate admissions policies which can allow students to gain places with poorer grades or to access extra support if their postcode is in an area with levels of disadvantage according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).

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However, Universities Scotland, the umbrella body for higher education institutions, believes the existing policy is flawed, with high levels of children from low income families living outside SIMD areas with a similar level who are not classed as poor living in such locations.

Holyrood Palace, which includes the Dumbiebykes district, is within an area with a high level of deprivation, while the lack of SIMD zones in the oil rich city of Aberdeen has made it more difficult to help local children in need of support.

Universities Scotland is working with the Scottish government to change the guidelines to take account of individual needs more such as school attainment, household income, and whether a child has been in care.

The plan follows concerns that scrapping tuition fees has not done enough to increase participation rates for children from poorer backgrounds.

However, under proposed reforms students would be offered university places even if they have low grades while others could be helped to prepare for interviews for a university place or offered a spot at a summer school to them prepare for higher education courses.

A Universities Scotland spokeswoman, confirming the plan to widen access, said: “The new basket of measure will look at individual circumstances, for example household income and the school they attended to ensure that support and resources for widening access are targeted at those who need them, and can benefit from them the most.”

Labour MSP Richard Baker said the SNP government was “not delivering for students from low income backgrounds in particular”.

The Scottish government has launched a commission on widening access to university.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has been very clear that we want every child, whatever their background, to have an equal chance of benefitting from higher education.”