Perhaps you too missed the news coverage of a recent announcement concerning Scotland’s higher education sector. This relates to a publication on 17 May by the Scottish Funding Council on widening access to universities and colleges.
Some key findings are summarised in the table below, from the SFC report.
(CE = care experienced; COWA = Commission on Widening Access; MD20 = Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, most deprived quintile)
It shows that:
- in 2020-21, 16.7% of all Scottish-domiciled full-time first-degree entrants were from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland – up 3 percentage points since 2013-14, a 21.8% increase
- when combining all undergraduate Higher Education (HE) provision, at both universities and colleges, 19.7% of entrants were from the 20% most deprived areas – up 2.5 percentage points since 2013-14, a 14.5% increase
- those self-reporting as ‘care-experienced’ students represented 1.9% of Scottish-domiciled entrants to undergraduate courses at Scotland’s colleges and universities in 2020-21 – up 1.6 percentage points since 2013-14, a 533% increase!
We also learn from the report that:
4. colleges in Scotland recruited 25.3% of their Scottish-domiciled entrants to higher education courses from the 20% most deprived areas – up 2.9 percentage points since 2013-14, a 12.9% increase.
Acceptance on to a course is an important metric but of course, so too is successful completion. The table below from the SFC report provides data on those achieving higher education qualifications since 2013-14.
The SFC report notes: ‘In spite of the challenges faced by the two sectors and their students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 58,475 students successfully achieved an undergraduate-level Higher Education (HE) qualification in 2020-21 from Scotland’s colleges and universities. Of those achieving qualifications, 18.6% were from the 20% most deprived areas.’
The report adds: ’Other college and university students who may initially have expected to graduate in 2020-21, but were impacted by the pandemic, are instead expected to obtain their awards in future academic years.’ So the qualifying data for the period of the pandemic are minimum figures as there may be more, but delayed qualifiers.
Note that pre-pandemic there was already a rise in the percentage of qualifiers from the 20% most deprived areas:
- for full-time first degree qualifiers from the 20% most deprived areas there was a rise from 11.7% in 2013-14 to 13.9% in 2018-19 – up 2.2 percentage points, an increase of 18.8%
- for all undergraduate course qualifiers from the 20% most deprived areas there was a rise from 16.1% in 2013-14 to 18.5% in 2018-19 – up 2.4 percentage points, an increase of 14.9%.
Steady, good progress across the board – so nothing for the voters in Scotland to be informed of here?
In the context of widening access and the related issue of equality of opportunity – and looking to the future – it’s worth recalling the following observations made in an OECD research report on Scottish school education in 2021.
Source: OECD (2021), Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future, Implementing Education Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/bf624417-en
On analysis of ‘equity’ the OECD concludes: ‘Students’ socio-economic status has a relatively small impact on their performance in Scotland, compared to other OECD countries and economies. The extent of socio-economic disparities in academic performance indicates whether an education system helps promote equality of opportunities.
‘… in Scotland, students’ socio-economic status had relatively little impact on their reading performance than other OECD countries. In 2018, the socio-economic status as measured by the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) explained only 8.6% of the difference in performance between students from the most and least advantaged backgrounds in Scotland. This means students’ socio-economic status had a smaller impact on their performance in Scotland than on average across the OECD, where the ESCS explained 12% of the difference in performance. The impact of students’ socio-economic status on their PISA performance in maths and science was also smaller in Scotland than on average in the OECD area, explaining 7.9% of the performance difference in maths, compared to 13.8% on average, and 10.1% of the performance difference in science compared to 12.8% on average.’
So notable positives about Scotland’s education system? And yes, always more that could and should be improved, nonetheless encouraging for the future? But if so, they are being ignored by the media and seemingly denied by (so called) left of centre political opponents of the Scottish Government.