Putting Learners at the Centre

Putting Learners at the Centre is our response to the Scottish Government’s 2011 white paper of the same name, which looked at a number of learning, teaching and access issues in higher education.

Universities Scotland shares the central tenet of the Scottish Government’s white paper – that the learner should be at the centre of any reform. We believe the learner should be the focus of, and reason for, any and all necessary change to Scotland’s post-16 educational landscape.

The Scottish Government has committed to a funding settlement for universities until 2015 which will secure universities’ quality and international competitiveness. The white paper makes many references to universities’ central role in Scotland’s knowledge economy and in helping to forge Scotland’s place in the world and we welcome this recognition. However, even with this, we accept that the Scottish Government has to assure itself that universities continue to deliver across all areas of our activity in a way that makes best use of this public investment.

The breadth and scale of proposals in the white paper is reflected in the main themes our response focuses on as outlined below:

  • Efficient, flexible learner journeys
  • Widening access
  • Aligning skills with jobs and growth
  • Maintaining Scotland as a global leader in university research
  • Knowledge exchange
  • Fair, affordable student support
  • Effective and sustainable delivery
  • Simplifying funding and increasing income generation
  • Performance, governance and accountability

We are pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the programme of intended reform and welcome the Government’s commitment to a consultative approach.

Just as we share in the paper’s vision and over-arching theme, we believe that the broad direction of travel set in most of the policy strands of this paper is right and we want to work with the Scottish Parliament in achieving the broad policy objectives as articulated.

Given this, our response is evidence- based and  focussed primarily on how we might be constructive in support of the Government, and with  a view to delivering on the ambitions the sector and the Government share for Scotland‟s sustainable economic growth and the promotion of opportunity for all.

Gemma Pittendreigh is a Social Sciences student at Robert Gordon University and a great example of a ‘mature’ student that has progressed through learning step-by-step and onto university without any duplication.

Gemma left Ellon Academy at 15 to go to college and from there she went into retail. After a few years of work she decided it was time to get back to studying. Gemma went back to Aberdeen College and took an introduction course in social science, progressing to an HNC and then an HND. She then articulated into Robert Gordon University through the “uni-link” programme and entered straight into the third year of a BA (Hons) in Applied Social Sciences course.

This highlights the flexibility that exists within Scotland’s four-year degree programme.

Widening access to university needs to include potential students from all backgrounds from school-leavers to mature and part-time students.

Chris Jowers:  Ten years after leaving education without any qualifications, Chris decided he wanted to change his career and wanted to study Chinese at the University of Edinburgh. He needed to do an Access course first as he didn’t have the entry qualifications necessary. He successfully completed one with Stevenson College, through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) and was accepted by Edinburgh University.

In June 2009 he graduated with a MA (Hons) in Chinese and is now working for HarperCollins as a translator from Chinese into English.

Chris says: “Looking back, without a doubt the Access course was one of the best things I have ever done. In the end of the day it is up to you how much work you put into it, and there were some amongst our year who worked less than others, and thus were not able to cope with the workload that is required at University. I very strongly encourage anyone wanting to take on an Access course to give it a go. There is nothing more satisfactory than graduating after a 5-year project and a lot of hard work.”

Key Points:

  • Universities’ central role in Scotland’s knowledge economy and in helping to forge Scotland’s place in the world is recognised by the Scottish Government.
  •  The Scottish Government has committed to a funding settlement for universities until 2015 which will secure universities’ quality and international competitiveness.
  • Our aim is that the learner’s journey through school, college and university should provide the flexibility to support all individuals in their diverse choices, pathways and learning styles, and do so in a way which makes efficient and effective use of their time and of  public resources.


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