Commitment to widening access confirmed by Principals appointed to head work streams

Universities Scotland is delighted to announce the three leading Principals will develop the next stage of the widening access agenda as delivered by the university sector.

• Work on Admissions will be led by Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of University of St Andrews
• Work on Articulation will be led by Susan Stewart, Director of the Open University in Scotland
• Work on Bridging Programmes will be led by Professor Petra Wend, Principal of Queen Margaret University Edinburgh

Universities Scotland is committed to the widening access agenda, having played an active part in the Commission on Widening Access, whose report was welcomed by the sector upon publication in March. Universities Scotland then developed its own response, Futures Not Backgrounds, which was published in July.

In December, the Scottish Government announced Professor Sir Peter Scott as the Commissioner for Fair Access. Universities Scotland’s plans are expected to tie-in closely to the work of the Commissioner and complement the broader agenda taken forward by that office. Universities Scotland is seeking a meeting between the Commissioner; Convener of Universities Scotland, Prof Andrea Nolan and the three Principals announced as work steam leads as soon as possible.

The admissions review is aimed at doing more to level the playing field for applicants, including adjusted offers where appropriate, in recognition that not everyone has had the same opportunities or support in life. Universities acknowledge that an applicant’s potential can be as important as their prior academic achievement. The University of St Andrews has been doing this successfully for some years.

On heading the Admissions stream of work, Professor Mapstone said: “University leaders said in Future Not Backgrounds that we would review admission policies and procedures to ensure that we provide more opportunities to recognise and reward the talent and potential of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Across Scotland, contextual admissions are being used extensively. We will look to identify and share best practice in the use of contextual admissions as well consider how to make the use of contextual admissions better understood by potential applicants, parents, guardians, teachers and others.”

Articulation from college is a fast-growing route into university that offers an alternative from the more conventional route from school via an application through UCAS. Susan Stewart, discussing her work on articulation: “Studying can be challenging enough but especially so if you’ve got other things in your life to think about, like work or family. The last thing a learner needs is an unnecessary barrier before they’ve even got properly started. That’s why our work on Articulation is critical: we need the different elements of the education system to work more closely to deliver the best learner journey for students. We want to see more articulation routes between the courses and the number of students using them.”

Bridging Programmes are a means of ensuring that students are prepared to do well in university and get them off to a good start at university. There are a variety of Bridging Programmes including programmes which support transition from school to university or college to university and ‘top up’ courses to help people who did not quite make the attainment level to get into university. The evidence from Bridging Programmes suggest that this a successful method of widening access.

The Bridging Programmes work stream will be led by Professor Petra Wend. She commented: “We know from our own experiences that there’s some fantastic Bridging Programmes going on across our 19 institutions. What we need to do now is build on these good foundations. Collaboration will be key so that learners can move more freely between the bridging programmes and different institutions.”

The appointment of three Principals to lead these work streams is a clear signal of the commitment university leaders has to deliver on access goals on behalf of the higher education sector.
Membership of the three work streams will be confirmed shortly with membership from across Scotland’s 19 Higher Education Institutes as well as appropriate partners including NUS Scotland, Colleges Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council to ensure that the groups are working inclusively and collaboratively.