‘Clearer criteria’ needed to widen university access for poorer students

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University access criteria needs to be made clearer to applicants to boost numbers of students from deprived areas, Scotland’s 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 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% 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.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee on Wednesday he said the Scottish Government is yet to formally respond to the report’s recommendations, which include a review on the number of funded places.

He told MSPs he expects a ministeral statement on this issue 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% but stressed there is more to be done.

Sir Peter told MSPs 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”.

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