Higher education - re-committing to Fair Access - a plan for recovery: annual report 2021

The fourth annual report of the Commissioner for Fair Access to higher education celebrates the progress that has been made and warns about the impact of the COVID-19 emergency, and the resulting setback to achieving fair access.


To the Scottish Government:

1. The Government's commitment to fair access in higher education should be reaffirmed and intensified, at the highest level and in the most public way possible.

2. The Government should make permanent the additional funded places made available in 2020-21 and continued for 2021-22. Without these extra places universities will ultimately be forced to reduce first-year intakes to compensate for the larger numbers flowing through, which will undermine efforts to meet future access targets. As student demand is increasing, and projected to increase further, the failure to increase funded places would reactivate fears about applicants from more advantaged backgrounds being 'displaced'.

3. The Government should now follow through on the recommendation of the Commission on Widening Access and consider whether the threshold of 10 per cent of SIMD20 entrants in each university should be increased. To maintain momentum this threshold should be raised to 15 per cent.

4. In reviewing progress towards fair access targets the Government should also consider including a target for entrants from the 40 per cent most deprived communities, in addition to the current SIMD20 targets, to ensure that SIMD40 are not 'squeezed' between the most deprived and more privileged social groups in university admissions.

To the Scottish Funding Council:

5. The SFC should include fair access as one of its headline priority themes as it carries forward its work on the future of colleges and universities, in its sustainability review.

6. Many access programmes and initiatives continue to be funded as short-term projects which inhibits longer-term planning. Wherever possible they should be incorporated into core institutional funding, although they should continue to be earmarked.

7. The Framework for Fair Access should be given secure and sustainable funding, based on a hybrid model of an SFC grant and institutional subscriptions.

To institutions:

8. Restoring in-person outreach activities, complemented by online programmes available to a wider audience developed during the past year, and also the social experience of campus life should have the highest priority in the return to near(er) normal.

9. Minimum entry requirements should be used in more flexible ways, to reflect the changed environment created by the shift from exam grades to teacher-assessed grades (which do not appear to have led to worse retention and continuation rates). As confidence in their use increases, they should be set at more ambitious levels.

10. By 2026 all HN students transferring to degree courses should be granted advanced standing, unless there are specified reasons why this should not be the case, as a key element in the development of more flexible pathways across tertiary education, training and work. This fuller recognition of prior achievement would also make more efficient use of resources and free up extra places.


Email: karen.frew@gov.scot

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