Joint Articulation: what is it and what are the priorities?

Last week, the Commissioner for Fair Access, Professor John H. McKendrick published his first annual report on widening access to HE. In it, he champions an alliance between colleges and universities as a means to achieving the access targets. Colleges and universities have been working closely together on progression routes at both national and regional level for decades. More recently, the Joint Articulation Group, formed in 2021 looks to take a strategic approach to expanding opportunities for learners through this route. Lydia Rohmer and Duncan Cockburn are the Co-chairs of the Group and have penned this blog:

Scotland’s college and higher education sectors are passionate about encouraging people across the nation to fulfil their potential. Articulation from colleges into universities in Scotland is an important learning route for individuals. Each year, over 4,200 students take their college HNC or HND qualification and enter, without repeating levels of study, into second or third year of a degree at one of Scotland’s 19 universities.

This makes articulation an efficient entry route into university from the learner’s perspective. It can also support Scotland’s widening access agenda in cases where underrepresented students choose college as a first step in further study before transitioning into a university degree programme.

We have a unique history of articulation in Scotland, which is much admired. This doesn’t happen organically. It is the product of close relationships between individual colleges and universities, and of a concerted effort at national level. Jointly, the sectors have been working to increase the number of students who articulate and have made progress. Though the data is time-lagged, the latest report from the Funding Council shows that students using this route increased from 4,200 to 4,500 in 2021/22.

The Joint Articulation Group is one of the main conduits for developing nation-wide approaches to articulation. It was created in 2020, as a recommendation from the National Articulation Forum’s report. The timing of the creation of the Joint Articulation Group is important. The pandemic had a huge impact on learners and on education at all levels. For some people, it meant lost learning and a loss of confidence. COVID-19 coupled with the cost-of-living crisis we now find ourselves in continues to cause all sorts of ripples in student choice and behaviour. As colleges and universities, we need to keep adapting, and offering choice and opportunity to learners.

The Group’s members have agreed five key priorities and ambitions for both sectors in a post pandemic world. If these priorities and ambitions are met, then students across Scotland will benefit from a greater diversity of study routes.

  1. Develop more routes from wider range of qualifications. Historically, articulation routes have used Higher National qualifications (HNQs). HNQs are important, but other qualifications exist too. The Group will work to expand the definition of articulation, and help to develop articulation routes from other qualifications.
  2. Enable students to find articulation routes. The Pathways portal shows articulation pathways across the Lothians, Borders, Fife, Stirling, and Clackmannanshire. We want to expand this to the whole of Scotland.
  3. Work to support future articulation. The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is developing the Next Generation of HNQs and we will be working with SQA to ensure these new qualifications continue to support and expand articulation.
  4. Making student transitions smoother. We will focus on supporting transitions for articulating students and we will work with students to do this. We recognise that the pandemic has had an impact on the learning of future students, so additional support to help with the transition between at college and at university is required.
  1. Improve information about articulation. Potential learners are not always aware of articulation as an option and we want to change that. We will work with the provider of careers advice to school pupils and college students, Skills Development Scotland, to ensure that articulation is clearly signposted as a route from college to university with careers advisors, teachers, and lecturers.

As ever, the learner must be at the centre of our thinking. This means their journey from college into university is efficient, timely and avoids unnecessary duplication. However, the journey must also move at the learner’s own pace. We must continue to respect the right of students who wish to start at university in first year.

Our Group is ambitious and determined to deliver further change to ensure articulation continues to be a successful feature of Scotland’s journey to widen access to learners, based on their future, not background.