When I was appointed Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, I was delighted to have within my portfolio the Government's agenda on fair access to higher education. Like others, I fully embraced the recommendations of the Commission on Widening Access and its belief that equal access is fundamentally about fairness and is compatible with academic excellence.
As the First Minister has made clear, education is the defining mission of this Government. Our work to reduce inequalities in higher education did not start and will not end with the Commission's recommendations. We have introduced statutory access agreements and, over the last four years, have invested £128 million in widening access and articulation places, which are now embedded in our core funding for universities. This year we also introduced 40 new places through our pre-medical entry programme, which focus on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Commission's final recommendation was for the Scottish Government to report on progress. This report provides that update and focusses on what the Commission called 'foundational recommendations' - the recommendations the Commission felt most crucial to implement if we are to achieve equal access. Good progress has been made on these and on the other recommendations from the Commission, in what is a significant programme of systemic and cultural change in Scotland's approach to widening access.
The report also sets out how we plan to coordinate and monitor work going forward. It concludes by setting out the Government's expectations of itself and others on what can be achieved in the coming year with regard to access thresholds, outcome agreements and data. These are the key areas where I believe we must maintain the momentum with implementation if we are to reach our targets.
Finally, I want to highlight the relevance of this work. In April this year, the Government delivered on the Commission's recommendation to replace student loans with a bursary for those with a care experience. At the time of writing, over 100 young care experienced students had been awarded this bursary of £7,625 for study in 2017/18. The Commission's recommendations are already making a real difference to the lives of some of Scotland's most vulnerable young people. I am determined that we deliver on them all.
Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
Email: Laura Duffy
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House