Laying the foundations for fair access: annual report 2017 from the Commissioner for Fair Access

This is the first annual report from the Commissioner for Fair Access, covering the wider context of access to higher education in Scotland.


One of the proposals made by the Commission on Widening Access was that the Commissioner's annual report should report on progress against its recommendations. A separate mechanism has been established to oversee this detailed monitoring, the Access Delivery Group chaired by the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science. I think it is appropriate that the Scottish Government, rather than the Commissioner, should monitor the delivery of the Commission's recommendations. This has allowed me to take a broader, and more open, view of progress and also to introduce new themes to the access debate in Scotland.

This report is divided into three main parts.

Chapter 1 sketches out the wider context - the heritage of Scotland's universities and the present shape of higher education; the distinctive approach to access that has flowed from this heritage, pattern of institutions and funding arrangements; the major policy milestones; and, crucially, the progress that has been made.

Chapters 2-7 focus on a number of issues, many of which are familiar. They include the funding of higher education and (for Scottish students) the absence of fees, admissions and entry standards, progression from college to university (and also the interface between schools and higher education), outreach and bridging programmes and the use of targets (and the best measures to use to identify access students).

The third part comprises a number of recommendations. Some are specific and concrete, and addressed to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council and colleges and universities. Other recommendations are more general but no less important - for example, the suggestions that universities should see fair access as one element in a wider 'social covenant' and that, just as new admissions policies are raising new questions about how entry standards are defined, so there needs to be a grown-up debate about how we define 'success'. The report ends with a general conclusion on the challenges of achieving fair access in Scotland.

  • Finally, there is one crucial area not covered in this report - student financial support. The Scottish Government separately established an independent review of student support. The final report of this review group had only recently been published, when this report was almost complete and before Ministers have had an opportunity to respond to its recommendations. This omission is therefore deliberate.


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