The Commissioner for Fair Access has published his first annual report this morning (13 December 2017).
The Commissioner’s first annual report on access is both challenging, interesting and useful. We’d expect nothing less.
Universities will give his set of 23 new recommendations urgent and full consideration. On first sight, there appears to be lots there that echoes the actions that universities set out for themselves in November. The Commissioner also calls for greater clarity on targets and data. We agree that would be helpful. There are some data that universities would find really helpful in setting entry grades to support access and it would be helpful to get this from Government as a matter of priority.
We welcome the inclusive and partnership approach that the Commissioner sets out as a way forward for Scotland. Those are the origins of the ambitious 2030 goal to have 20 per cent of entrants to university from the 20 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods of Scotland. That is very much how we want to see this generational and societal goal taken forward.
We welcome the Commissioner’s emphasis on the need to include adult returners to education, and part-time study, as part of work to widen access. Adult returners are a significant minority of university students, they are very important to Scotland’s economy and they will be vital to our achievement of the access goals.
Our position on places has always been that we want anyone with the potential and ability to benefit from higher education to get the chance to do so, whatever their background. That has to mean more opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. That goal has universities’ full support and we are committed to playing our role in levelling the playing field. If this can be achieved, as the Commissioner suggests, without limiting opportunities for kids from middle-class families, many of whom will have had to work hard at school to get their grades, we would be supportive.
Universities are focused on the access goals for 2030. The Commissioner’s comments on extra places and the need to keep university funding with universities is welcome. For us, the key consideration in creating any extra places, is that they are fully funded places. That is vital to ensuring that universities can invest the necessary resource in every single student to provide the full range of support services which students depend on whilst at university, in addition to their education. A fully funded place will make the difference between entry to university and successful completion at university. We welcome the Commissioner’s affirmation that resources potentially released by future changes for instance in EU recruitment should be reinvested in this way.