Progress on articulation, the process that allows students with higher national qualifications from college to move straight into the second or third year of a degree, has been “disappointing”, according to Scotland's commissioner for fair access.
In his second report, published this morning, Professor Peter Scott says too many applicants with Higher Nationals (HNs) were “being denied the credit to which they are entitled”.
“This is particularly frustrating at a time when new types of qualification, particularly in work-based learning, are becoming increasingly significant, even if students on Foundation and Graduate Apprenticeships are still comparatively small. A step change in university practice – and attitudes – is needed,” he adds.
Widening access to university
Through the mechanism known as “articulation” in Scotland, those with an HND should be able to move straight into the third year of a four-year degree at a Scottish university, while those with an HNC should be able to move into the second year if they are given full credit for their prior learning. However, in the past, the majority of students have not been given full credit or “advanced standing” – getting only “advanced progression” (or partial credit) or no credit at all.
In April, figures published by the Scottish Funding Council showed that only just over half of students entering university after gaining a Higher National Certificate or a Higher National Diploma at college gained full credit for those qualifications in 2017-18.
This morning’s report states: “Instead of the step change that is needed, only gradual improvement has been made. This is a major issue. Currently more than one in four first degree entrants (26.1 per cent) comes via an HN route, although around 60 per cent (and 80 per cent of those with advanced standing) are to be found in only four universities - West of Scotland, Glasgow Caledonian, Robert Gordon and Napier. Although not all articulating students with HNs come from deprived communities.”
It adds: “The various explanations of, and justifications for, this reluctance to allow HN students advanced standing on degrees were discussed in my first annual report. They include students switching subjects and/or not wishing to receive full credit to allow themselves more time to acclimatise to degree-level study, a poor ‘fit’ between the HN and degree curriculum even in the same or similar subjects, and the belief that there are important differences between HNs and degrees in learning style and culture (or even that there is some kind of existential gulf between higher professional and vocational education and a university education). Some of these explanations are valid; others are not.”
In this morning’s report, the commissioner concludes that overall, good progress has been made to meet the 2021 interim targets for fair access” to university, and “the goal of achieving a level playing field for all applicants irrespective of social circumstances now looks achievable”.
“Scotland is now setting the pace in the UK in terms of widening participation, with more rapid improvement in the opportunities for young people from socially deprived backgrounds to go to university than any other UK nation.”
However, he adds that the distribution of students from socially deprived backgrounds between colleges and universities, between different types of universities and between individual universities, is “still very uneven”.
Karen Watt, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “The commissioner’s report shows evidence of good progress and that universities and colleges are working hard to ensure everyone has a fair chance of a place on a higher education course.
“The report also points out that there is a lot of work still to do. We will continue to play our part in this collective challenge until we have a truly level playing field.”
A spokesperson for Colleges Scotland said: “We agree with the commissioner that there are too many students not being given the credit for qualifications already achieved, and we will continue to work with the Scottish government and universities to ensure that college students across Scotland are given due recognition for prior learning so that they can progress on to university if they wish without any unnecessary repetition.”