Scotland’s universities told to reduce entry requirements to help disadvantaged students

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Hamish Morrison
Reporter

A report by the Scottish Government’s Commission on Widening Access has recommended that the entry requirements for courses at Scotland’s most select universities be dropped to take in more students from poorer backgrounds.

The report, entitled Blueprint for Fairness, recommended that the grade requirements must reflect minimum standard necessary to enter the course, as opposed to increasing competitiveness. The Commission also set out targets for increasing the percentage of students from the most deprived areas of Scotland to 20% of the total entrants to higher education as a whole by 2030. This comes after findings that only 9.7% of students at Scottish universities came from the poorest parts of Scotland.

The report found that the grade requirements of courses at universities such as Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh disproportionately favoured well off students and were significant barriers to poorer students. While the recommendations apply to all Scottish universities, it would especially affect top competitive courses such as medicine and law at these “ancient” universities.

The Commissioner for Fair Access, Professor Peter Scott, highlighted the difference between the exclusive entry requirements for top universities and what he calls “supply-and-demand thresholds”, which he claims are exclusionary to students from poorer backgrounds who do not receive the “stronger family, peer and community support” enjoyed by students from better off households.

The report has recommended that these courses create separate lower entry requirements for less well off students. The National Union of Students (NUS) has welcomed the proposals in a statement saying that the “gap between applications and acceptances has been growing” and that the entry requirements do not reflect the necessary minimum academic ability needed to undertake the course. The NUS also claimed that evidence showed that even when accepted on lower entry grades, lower income students could outperform their richer counterparts academically.

There have been concerns raised that these measures could push out middle class applicants from courses due to the fixed quota on the number of Scottish students admitted to university. In light of this Peter Scott suggested that numbers of Scottish students should be increased as a partial remedy but said it would not be a complete solution.

President of the SRC Ameer Ibrahim said that rising entry requirements can be seen “as a result of increased demand, and increased competition for places. However, pre-entry qualifications should not exclusively be recognised as a measure of an applicant’s abilities. Transferable skills developed through other pursuits should also be taken into account.”

Asked whether the proposals would devalue the prestige of top universities, Ibrahim asserted that “entry requirements should reflect a base level of academic achievements in pursuit of a particular degree programme” and also noted that “there is substantial evidence that education systems pre-University from schools etc. do not sufficiently develop all the skills required for University.”