Universities Scotland has announced a new initiative entitled Working to Widen Access, an outline of 15 steps intended to increase the chances of disadvantaged students entering university.
The organisation, which represents all 19 of Scotland’s higher education institutions, is aiming to set minimum entry requirements by 2019 in time for the 2020/2021 academic year, although Universities Scotland describes this ambition as “stretching but possible”.
Many Scottish universities already have this policy in place, but the new initiative will ensure that all 19 institutions under Universities Scotland adopt the practice.
Glasgow University runs a similar effort through their Widening Access programme.
The move will see less emphasis placed on exam results by Scottish universities, and more attention given to individuals’ skills and potential. However, this does not apply to disadvantaged students who have been in care, for whom exam results will be the sole factor considered in their applications.
The practice of “contextualised admissions” will be implemented, a process by which universities look at applicant data that is separate from exam results in order to discern whether or not an applicant warrants extra consideration.
Data covered under “contextual admissions” can range from care experience to socio-economic status, and it is hoped that universities will be able to “reduce the impact of
those factors” and focus more on individual potential.
The Scottish Government aims for students from deprived areas to make up 20% of the student population by 2030. However, they have also stated that they do not believe the new initiative will be enough to reach targets for change.
Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of St Andrews University, headed up the work on “contextual admissions” and stated: “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. We are confident that making these changes will help more prospective students, and their advisers, to realise that opportunities are there, within touching distance.”
However, Peter Scott, the Scottish Government’s Commissioner for Free Access, has warned that universities implementing the new initiative will face lower positions on league tables, which he claimed “rarely, if ever” take into account students from poor areas having greater access to university.
As a solution, Scott called for pressure to be put on league table compilers for them to acknowledge the “learning gain” of students from this type of background.
Universities Scotland commented that while they are aware of the risk of declining table positions, they remain committed to proceeding with their new initiative for minimum entry requirements.