Emboldened to deliver more on access to HE

Big challenges require bold action. One of Scotland’s biggest challenges is the need to address the inequality that exists in our society and in our education sector. Whoever we are, we all have an interest in ensuring that our future is rid of the shameful statistic that by the time a child reaches five, there could be as much as 10-13 month gap in their literacy and numeracy, depending on where they were born.

In 2015, the First Minister clearly articulated her ambition that by 2030, 20 per cent of entrants to university will come from our 20 per cent most deprived areas. There is no getting away from the scale of ambition in that statement. It is generational. The success, or failure, of that ambition is measured at university, towards the end of someone’s journey through education, but the actions required to deliver it are bold; they require us to join up all levels of education and wider society. A commission for widening access was established and last year it made 34 recommendations to help widen access to university. Thirteen were for the universities themselves to act on. Today, Scotland’s universities step up to the plate with renewed commitment and respond with 15 bold actions.

Universities have been working to widen access for a long time, with has been some success at a national level, and much success in pockets around the country.  But universities share in the frustration that the overall rate of progress has not been faster. That is our big challenge and our response is to be bolder in the action we take. There will be changes to the way we run our admissions systems, bringing new levels of consistency. Minimum entry requirements for all courses will increase transparency and put a university degree within touching distance for those who previously felt it was out of reach. Applicants with care experience will be guaranteed an offer of a place at university if they meet the minimum entry requirements. We will make sure that our new approaches work for learners because we will consult with them.

Our reforms to admissions, combined with additional action taken with schools and colleges, will see universities tackle the challenge of widening access from many angles. The challenge for 2030 remains a big one but I my fellow Principals and I feel emboldened to deliver.

Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal of Edinburgh Napier University

This thought leader piece appears in the Herald newspaper on Monday 13 November.