What lessons can your SU learn from NUS Scotland's Fair Access win?

Tuesday 05-07-2016 - 19:50

NUS Scotland has campaigned for a number of years for fairer access to education and earlier this year, achieved a key win for students from poorer backgrounds when the Commission on Widening Access report was published by the Scottish government. Here's how we did it!

In 2012, NUS Scotland called for a commission to examine the barriers to access and for urgent action to improve the number of people from poorer backgrounds attending Scottish universities. Fast-forward to March 2016 and the publication of the Commission on Widening Access report marks a significant moment in the campaign.

The majority of campaign asks were included in the final recommendations in the report to Scottish government, including the establishment of a Commissioner for Fair Access and the development of a Scottish Framework for Fair Access, to ensure a clear framework of what works in fair access, and a clear and ambitious target to ensure that by 2030, universities in Scotland are reflective of the communities they serve, with equal representation of students from our most deprived communities. In addition, for care-experienced students, a commitment to truly free education with guaranteed student support funded through grants.   

So, how did they do it? Led by Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland President, today’s session at Students’ Unions 2016 explored how the lessons from NUS Scotland’s successful campaign can be applied across the UK.

The starting point:

  • Synthesise existing evidence around barriers to widening access and retention, and their effective removal - specific reference to barriers for those with different equality characteristics and those from a care background;
  • Propose a short and long-term target for participation in HE and clear milestones, to drive further and faster progress;
  • Identify best practice across early years, schools, colleges, universities and employers, and make recommendations as to how best practice on access and retention can be scaled up and embedded;
  • Identify the data and information required to monitor and support improvements on widening access.

The end point:

  • A system wide plan for fair access in Scotland – recognition that universities can’t do it all, but the can do more;
  • Proposals that are demanding but achievable and mark the beginning of the next phase of change;
  • Scotland has a moral, social and economic duty to make this a reality for our most disadvantaged children;
  • An opportunity here for Scotland to lead the way on fair access.

What came in between (the actual recommendations)?

Interim report:

  • Took stock of where Scotland is on fair access;
  • Identified and examined main barriers and highlighted potential best practice to bring those down.

Final report:

  • 34 recommendations in all, across entry and exit - each one carefully chosen to ensure the best impact and outcomes, and carefully considered within an evidence base;
  • Built on recognition in the interim report that this is a whole system/through life problem, requiring a similar solution.

For more information on NUS Scotland, and for a copy of today’s presentation please email Vonnie Sandlan (


Campaigns, Education, Features, NUS Scotland

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