Fair access to university: Commissioner’s report for 2024

Today the Commissioner for Fair Access, Professor John McKendrick has published his independent report Higher education – renewing the alliance for fair access. This is the sixth fair access report commissioned by the Scottish Government.

Professor John McKendrick considers how the framework for promoting fair access can be strengthened with twenty recommendations to help achieve the 2030 target and ten priorities for 2024.

There has been significant progress in achieving the 2030 target with the interim 2021 target achieved. The core target for 2021 (16%) was achieved in advance (2019/20) and has continued to be met/exceeded (2020/21 and 2021/22). There has also been a record number of entrants to university from disadvantaged backgrounds. The highest ever number of entrants from Scotland’s most deprived areas was achieved in 2021/22 (5,595).

However, the Commissioner has warned of progressing stalling as we look towards the 2030 and interim targets. Progress has regressed by 0.2% in the last year from 16.7% t0 16.5% of university entrants coming from a deprived background.

In response to the report, Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland has said:

“The sixth annual report of the Commissioner for Fair Access has been published at a crucial time in the journey towards delivering fair access to higher education in Scotland. The report offers a thoughtful blend of affirmation and challenge.

Whilst there are many positives to take stock of, including interim targets reached ahead of schedule and the sector’s collective sense of purpose, we share the Commissioner’s concern that progress may be stalling as the challenges ahead of us continue to mount up. The Commissioner specifically notes that “future entrants have had to manage learning through times of COVID and a cost-of-living crisis. Scotland’s fiscal position also makes it more challenging to resource fair access work”. These are real challenges for learners and for universities.

“There are some interesting ideas in his report, such as keeping the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation as a measure to track progress at national level but move into more nuanced and individual range of measures for universities – which better reflect the different demographics of students that different universities support.

“Universities remain committed to the widening access agenda, and we look forward to engaging with the Commissioner more closely going forward.”