Universities expected to report progress on widening access

Written by Tom Freeman on 1 June 2017 in News

Universities minister Shirley-Anne Somerville says she expects Scotland's institutions to 'live up to the challenge' of widening access

Shirley-Anne Somerville - Scottish Government

Universities which are lagging behind in offering places to students from poorer backgrounds must step up to the challenge of widening access and report evidence of their progress, Universities Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville has warned.

The Scottish Government's new framework for fair access is being developed with Scotland's higher education institutions, but in a ministerial statement Somerville said ministers would consider "other options" if all didn't comply.

Proposals to change admissions procedures would need to be agreed for 2019/20 applications, she said.


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"I want to be clear today about my expectations of our universities," she told MSPs.

"We can be very proud of our world-class university sector and the success that universities deliver. Indeed, statistics that were published only last week show that, in 2016, 35.8 per cent of workers in Scotland aged 25 to 64 were graduates, which is the highest percentage on record.

"However, there is disparity between universities in respect of the backgrounds of young people who study in them, and that must change. Every young person must have equal chances and choices to study at any of our Scottish institutions."

The progress report was welcomed by opposition figures.

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "While the number of students who come from deprived backgrounds going to university is rising in Scotland, we still lag considerably behind other United Kingdom jurisdictions in percentage terms."

Her Labour counterpart Iain Gray said progress was too slow.

"The 2021 target for students from the 20 per cent most-deprived backgrounds to represent at least 16 per cent of full-time first-degree entrants to university is now a mere four years away," he said.

Scotland's widening access commissioner Professor Sir Peter Scott has agreed to stay on for a further year, while the new framework will be published in 2018.  

Somerville said universities were engaged with the process.

"The commission suggested that the Government and the funding council should look at other options if universities do not live up to the challenge that has been presented to them," she said.

"However, given the continued assurances that I am receiving from Universities Scotland, I am confident that there is no reason for the universities not to succeed or to meet the pace of change that is required. I expect them to live up to the challenge."

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