NUS Scotland responds to Sutton Trust Report

Friday 27-05-2016 - 10:16

NUS Scotland: Sutton Trust report adds to urgency of fair access ambitions

NUS Scotland has welcomed a report from the Sutton Trust, examining fair access to higher education, which further adds to the body of evidence around the need to improve fair access to higher education in Scotland. Among the findings of the report, undertaken by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, is the fact that, over the last decade, 90% of the growth in higher education students in Scotland from disadvantaged communities has been through colleges, rather than universities.

The report comes at the end of a week where the First Minister announced the Scottish Government would appoint a Fair Access Commissioner, and the recommendations of the Commission on Widening Access would be implemented in full. The Sutton Trust report further endorses targets for fair access, and has called for the continuation of additional funded university places as a means to achieving those targets.  

Commenting on the report, Rob Henthorn, NUS Scotland vice-president, said: 
“This report is a welcome addition to all the evidence that demonstrates a need to radically and urgently improve fair access to higher education. The report is absolutely right to identify as a priority the implementation of the recommendations from the Commission on Widening Access, and appointing a dedicated Scottish Fair Access Commissioner. We were delighted to hear the First Minister, earlier this week, reaffirming the government’s commitment to fair access and announcing that both those would happen. This report, however, also highlights an important fact, and one that can’t be ignored – the vast majority of progress so far has been through our colleges.  

“The great opportunities colleges provide for students to access higher education isn’t something we should be ashamed of. For many people, going straight from school into university won’t be possible or right for them, and college higher education ensures an alternative exists. We should accept, celebrate and encourage that, as a distinctive part of Scottish education and a valid choice for the individual. Where it becomes a scandalous missed opportunity is if universities don’t then encourage and support students to use their college qualifications as a route onto a university degree. We cannot view those students, and their qualifications, as lesser or underserving of a place. Rather, with tens of thousands of students studying HE in college, articulation should be a priority way for all universities to improve fair access. The evidence of this report, and the Commission, suggests there is still a two tier system in place. Countless students are forced to repeat years of study - a waste of time, money and potential – or not even having their college qualifications recognised. 

“With all the compelling evidence we have around the need to improve fair access, and the ways and means to achieve that, nobody can say we don’t know what the problem is, or how to solve it. Adopting the full recommendations of the Commission on Widening Access, and appointing a Fair Access commissioner, is the first step, but far from the end. As the Sutton Trust have highlighted, it must also come with the necessary funding and places to deliver on our ambitions for education, and provide the opportunities that students from our most disadvantaged communities deserve. The last few years saw the welcome creation of thousands of extra places specifically to increase access and articulation, and we must now look at how we continue to boost those places further. And along with the necessary places, we must also ensure the necessary financial support those students need to not just access education, but stay there and reach their full potential.”

For more information, contact: Philip Whyte, Policy & Influencing Manager, 07554 451 941

The Sutton Trust ( is an independent charity focused on social mobility through education. Their report, Access in Scotland,is available here.


NUS Scotland

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Rob Henthorn NUS Scotland sutton trust fair access widening access

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