Figures reveal stagnating progress on widening access to HE

Friday 31-03-2017 - 15:25

Figures released today by the Scottish Funding Council (See notes) have laid bare the marginal progress made by Scottish universities on widening access and the risk posed to national targets to improve access – targets set by the Commission on Widening Access, and accepted by the Scottish Government. 

The figures show that between 2014/15 and 2015/16 there was a 0.1% increase in the numbers of students entering higher education from the most deprived backgrounds. However, this increase was only achieved by the post-1992 universities. There were decreases among every other type of institution. These figures mark the third year running of a 0.1% increase in access rates.  

These figures relate to all students, and follow earlier statistics from the SFC (See notes), which showed a decrease in access rates among young students. This means that any progress that has been achieved has been through recruiting older students – the Commission on Widening Access, however, had a remit of ensuring “…a child born today in one of our most deprived communities will, by the time he or she leaves school, have the same chance of going to university as a child born in one of our least deprived communities”. It also set a national target of ensuring that students from the most deprived backgrounds made up 20% of higher education entrants by 2030. 

Commenting on the figures, Vonnie Sandlan, President of NUS Scotland, said “These figures are hugely disappointing, and reinforce just how far we are from meeting the ambitions set by the Commission on Widening Access. What this clearly illustrates is that work to secure a truly fair education system is not being shared by every institution – we continue to see the bulk of our widening access work being done by the same institutions, year on year. Previous NUS Scotland research revealed that national targets will be missed by decades if we continue at the current pace. These figures only serve to reinforce that warning.

“Earlier figures have shown that access rates for young people are slipping backwards, moving us even further away from achieving the ambitious targets set out by the Commission on Widening Access. Today’s figures, including entrant figures for older students as well, show that lifelong learning and second chances for those who may have missed out first time around, is a crucial aspect of access and shouldn’t be underestimated – but also that we cannot allow progress to simply be driven through one group, or one type of institution.  

“We can no longer allow any institution to shirk their responsibilities when it comes to widening access – every institution, from our newest to our oldest, needs to secure bold, radical and ambitious progress, or we risk losing all the momentum we have achieved in recent years. As part of that, the urgency of ensuring the full recommendations of the Commission are implemented sooner rather later has never been clearer. We have just passed the one year anniversary of the Commission’s final report being published and now we need to see a clear and unambiguous response by the sector to how they’re going to implement those recommendations and secure those ambitions.”

The full Higher Education Students and Qualifiers publication can be found on the SFC website, while the chart below shows the figures by institution type.

You can find a copy of NUS Scotland’s comment on recently released access rates for young students here.


NUS Scotland

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