Briefings & Evidence

Response to the recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce on Educational Attainment

The Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce focused primarily on the 50% of Scotland’s pupils who don’t follow an academic pathway after school and who leave without Highers. However, many of the issues raised in the Commission’s report have parallels in the university sector and many of the recommendations have implications for universities so we are keen to make a response. We believe this is in keeping with the spirit of the Commission which put an emphasis on partnership working.

Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions certainly share an interest, and a responsibility, in working to close the educational attainment gap between our wealthiest and least privileged children.

Our full submission can be downloaded here.

The Wood Commission’s report can be downloaded here.


In summary, our response focuses on four main areas:

  • Employer engagement

We welcome the Commission’s recommendation that employers get more engaged in the delivery of education. Universities have a long history of employer engagement in course and programme design and review, of working with industry and
employer advisory boards and through provision of placement and work-based learning partnerships.

  • Equality of access to education

The Commission challenges schools, colleges and employers to reduce inequality particularly focussing on gender, ethnicity, disability and care leavers. Universities in Scotland are committed to widening access of opportunity and removing barriers to
access to higher education. We believe that in order to widen access no limits should be put on the ambitions of our young people. Therefore we support the Commission resistance of streaming of young people into academic or vocational routes at school age which we would consider as very unhelpful. We recognise the Wood Commission’s identification of the link between gender and educational attainment. A major imbalance in higher education is lower levels of males staying in education and reaching entry levels for university. Universities undertake a great deal of action to reduce this imbalance but it will take cross-sector working and increased equality of attainment in schools to reduce this gender imbalance.

  • Regional partnerships to support educational attainment

We see the value in developing and building partnerships within regions. Universities are involved in a number of partnerships across the country to support schools with the delivery of post-16 qualifications, such as Glasgow Caledonian University’s Advanced Highers Hub or the University of the Highlands and Islands extensive network of partnerships with colleges and schools which reaches over 3,000 in mostly rural areas.

  • Supporting flexible pathways through education to employment

The Wood Commission Report identifies the importance of establishing pathways for young people that aid transition from school to college to employment. Universities strongly support the Wood
Commission recommendation to develop pathways “without splitting young people off into separate streams at school age.”  Research points to the importance of supported transitions in successfully widening access. It also needs to be noted that university is not always the first step for school-leavers, who may chose to study at college or go into a job after school but it is important that the pathways remain flexible to keep university open as a potential future step. We think the Committee should consider routes into and through various levels of education as the norm rather than a fixed path.