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A Scottish blueprint for equitable access to higher education

Scottish government publishes on March 14, its final report ‘A Blueprint for Fairness’ issued by the Commission on Widening Access. Setting out to achieve the goal of equal access for those from deprived backgrounds, 34 recommendations are proposed that tackle barriers embedded in students’ backgrounds, obstructing opportunities for accessing and pursuing university education.

Key recommendations from the Commission on Widening access include:

  • The creation of a Commissioner for Fair Access, to advance and advocate an agenda for fair access county wide, working closely with educational institutions to purport strategic focus and reduce redundancies.
  • Setting targets by 2030, ensuring pupils from the 20% most underprivileged areas compose 20% of entrants into higher education.
  • Admission thresholds are to be set for students from the most deprived backgrounds, also responding to the ineffectiveness of articulation between education sectors, with 84% of transfers concentrated on five institutions. Colleges as a source for expanding the higher education offer is seen as a tool for widening access.
  • In a bold to move to secure targets, the report suggests entitlement to the offer of a place for students with experiences in care. Bridging financial barriers to social mobility is solidified by insuring full bursary/scholarly grants to students meeting admissions thresholds.
  • Fostering a more collaborative approach to providing access programmes by universities, colleges and schools.

Education Secretary Angela Constance contended that the recommendations “fit well with ongoing work around closing the attainment gap and developing the young workforce”, and announced that “that the Scottish Government will immediately accept the Commission’s recommended targets”, where successful achievement was strongly bound to a sharing of responsibility through collaborative working.

The report’s action plan embraces a systemic approach for equitable access within a generation, recognizing selective forms of higher education as tied to students social mobility and select entry into elite positions, also proposing the use of more regulatory powers as well as increased reporting on fairness data, leaving little doubt “that this Government is determined to make urgent progress on achieving our ambition of equal access”. 

Scottish Government- Press release
Commission on Widening Access- Final report