Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact on fair access to higher education - interim report

This interim report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fair access to higher education considers both the direct impact of the public health measures that have had to be taken and indirect impact of actions taken by colleges and universities to mitigate the worst effects of these measures.

6. Recommendations

The interim target for 18-per-cent of entrants to come from SIMD20 areas by 2026 should be reaffirmed, regardless of any loss of momentum (or ground) that may have been experienced as an unintended consequences of measures taken to combat COVID-19.

Individual colleges and universities should make full use of a basket of indicators of disadvantage, for example to identify rural poverty or the 'newly impoverished" as a result of COVID-19, to set their own targets. But the primary focus on communities suffering multiple deprivation in setting national targets should be maintained. 

Outreach activities should have priority in the return to face-to-face delivery. Funding for outreach should also be increased, at institutional, regional and national levels.

The increase in the number of funded places for Scottish students, which was made to accommodate higher-than-expected Higher and Advanced Higher grades this year, should be made permanent, to avoid the risk of opportunities for SIMD20 and other disadvantaged applicants being squeezed and to provide institutions with the additional resources they need to meet the post-Covid demand for up-skilling and retraining.

Universities should consider whether their minimum entry requirements need to be further adjusted in the light of (a) the shift from examinations to teacher-assessed grades; and (b) interruptions to school attendance.

Research should be undertaken into the impact of teacher assessment on the grades awarded to pupils from social deprived communities and other disadvantaged backgrounds.

Targets for an increasing proportion of HN entrants to universities to be granted advanced standing should be reinforced, in the light of concerns that they may have been 'crowded out' by increased first-year entry and restrictions on project work, placements and other enhancements of HNs.

In the next stage of its review of the sustainability of higher education the SFC should explicitly include fair access as a key objective.

The Scottish Government, in association with the SFC and institutions, should consider a COVID-19 recovery fund, focused in particular on addressing 'digital poverty', financial hardship and poor mental health among students.



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