Higher education - renewing the alliance for fair access: annual report 2024

The sixth annual report of the Commissioner for Fair Access concludes that much has already been achieved in delivering fair access to higher education in Scotland, but Professor John H. McKendrick considers how the framework for promoting fair access can be strengthened.

Annex 1. List of Recommendations

Recommendation 1. The primary focus for fair access should continue to be improving outcomes for those who experience or have experienced socio-economic disadvantage.

Recommendation 2. Retain SIMD as the central metric to indicate national progress in achieving fair access.

Recommendation 3. To strengthen the utility of SIMD to understand fair access, SFC and institutions are encouraged to report evidence in deciles up to SIMD40, in addition to quintiles.

Recommendation 4. Withdraw the SIMD institutional target but introduce a commitment from each HEI to take action to increase the proportion of SIMD20 among its entrants or, if this is demonstrably not possible without adverse consequences, to match the highest proportion and number of SIMD20 entrants that it achieved since 2013-14.

Recommendation 5. For universities in Scotland to collectively specify a basket of indicators from which individual HEIs may draw to demonstrate their wider work in promoting fair access.

Recommendation 6. The Scottish Government should consider strengthening the remit of the Commissioner for Fair Access to assume responsibility for advising on fair access to the whole of tertiary education.

Recommendation 7. The Scottish Government should take the necessary preparatory steps to embolden the fair access agenda beyond 2026 by transitioning toward individual-level indicators of socio-economic disadvantage, and thereafter to challenge institutions to achieve fair access for prospective students who have experienced such disadvantage.

Recommendation 8. The fair access agenda should be recalibrated to give equal weight to entry, student experience, and outcomes.

Recommendation 9. The primary focus on fair access should remain on Scottish-domiciled, full-time, first-degree entrants. However, for a rounded perspective on fair access to higher education, it is necessary to also focus on Graduate Apprenticeships, part-time undergraduate study, and postgraduate study.

Recommendation 10. Wherever practicable, data on fair access should be disaggregated to understand the relative contributions of different pathways (direct entry from school; articulation; and adult wider access).

Recommendation 11. SFC, in conjunction with participating universities, should ensure that disaggregated data are available for each of the disciplines that comprise the 'high demand professions' that are part of the AHDP programme (to enable the national impact of this work to be appraised) and the Transitions programme.

Recommendation 12. SFC should act on the advice of the previous Commissioner for Fair Access, specified as a recommendation in each of his last four annual reports, to commit to more secure and longer-term funding for SCAPP.

Recommendation 13. It should be re-affirmed that the central purpose of SCAPP is as a vehicle to support the development and professionalisation of a widening access and participation practitioner community in Scotland.

Recommendation 14. SFC, in conjunction with SCAPP, Universities Scotland and the wider educational research community in Scotland, should examine what steps should be taken to strengthen research and evaluation to underpin the fair access agenda.

Recommendation 15. For universities in Scotland to collectively agree what intelligence is in the national interest to promote fair access (as opposed to that which is commercially sensitive), and thereafter to ensure that this intelligence is made available to all relevant stakeholders in Scotland.

Recommendation 16. Should the decision be taken to withdraw funding for an intervention that had been integral to promoting fair access, or if an element of such work is to be radically altered, providers should undertake (and funders should encourage) an impact assessment to ascertain the impact on pupil cohorts who have previously benefited from this provision.

Recommendation 17. School leaders in Scotland, the SFC and its National Schools Programme, SCAPP and Universities Scotland should examine if, and if so what, steps should be taken to underpin the fair access agenda within the broad general education phase in Scottish education.

Recommendation 18. SFC, Universities Scotland and Skills Development Scotland should examine the prospects of introducing an easily accessible user-centred web-based resource that provides a single point of reference to inform prospective students and other stakeholders of the programmes and resources that are available to support access to higher education.

Recommendation 19. Stakeholders should explore the prospects for introducing a single student identifier to improve tracking and to facilitate more robust evaluation of the impact of fair access activity.

Recommendation 20. Stakeholders and leaders should reaffirm their commitment to promote fair access and commit to take those actions necessary to attain the next interim target for 2026.


Email: Clara.Pirie@gov.scot

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