Scottish universities to change admissions procedures to take in more disadvantaged students

Written by Tom Freeman on 13 November 2017 in News

Universities Scotland publish plans to widen access, including changing admissions to take account of backgrounds

Aberdeen University library - creative commons

Universities in Scotland will use more than just exam results in their admissions procedures in an attempt to encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university.

A new report by principals’ body Universities Scotland has revealed a joint commitment to widening access to university to meet a new government target to have a fifth of all students to come from disadvantaged areas by 2030.

University of St Andrews principal Professor Sally Mapstone led the work for the body.


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All 19 of Scotland’s higher education institutions have signed up to the plans.

The commitments include proposals for improving access through changing admissions criteria, linking more with colleges and, establishing more bridging programmes from school.

Minimum entry requirements to courses will remain, but students from disadvantaged backgrounds will also be judged on wider achievements and potential.

As well as introducing contextualised admissions for students starting from 2020, the universities pledge to use consistent easy-to-understand language.

Universities Scotland convener Professor Andrea Nolan said the plans could make “a real difference” because all institutions had signed up.

“Student recruitment is typically an area of intense competition between universities,” she said.

“Taking action to join up, agree a shared language and achieve more consistency in our admissions processes shows that we are serious about doing things differently. We’ve already turned our attention to delivery and I will give my full support to ensure we keep up the momentum.”

Mapstone said: “Scotland is taking a big step forward with contextualised admissions in a concerted bid to widen access at a faster rate.

“Universities will set minimum entry requirements for all courses: we will be very clear to whom this applies; and, we will use consistent, user-friendly language to describe the process. We want to ensure that all potential applicants from disadvantaged and non-traditional backgrounds understand that they are welcome, supported and belong at the heart of our universities.”

Universities minister Shirley-Anne Somerville welcomed the report but warned it may not do enough to meet the government targets.

"I am particularly pleased that universities will now act to ensure that every young person with experience of care who meets minimum entry requirements will be offered a university place,” she said.

"But I am concerned that the report's recommendations will not allow universities to meet the timescales and policy challenges contained in the Widening Access Commission's final report."

Colleges Scotland welcomed the inclusion of articulation from further education in the report.

Chief executive Shona Struthers said: “Colleges are looking forward to working with universities to continue to progress the work that both are already doing to help individuals overcome any barriers to learning and promote fair access and social inclusion, support future career goals and help reduce poverty.”

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