In his first speech as the new Deputy Minister for Lifelong Learning, Lewis Macdonald acknowledged that, despite the "significant achievement" of 50 per cent of young people entering HE, there had been much less movement from the most economically disadvantaged families.
Mr Macdonald said: "Many students in the early stages of post-compulsory education are uncer-tain learners. Their identity as learners is fragile.
Traditional entrants to higher education have their identity as learners confirmed by peers, teachers, parents. Non-traditional entrants often lack these support structures."
Mr Macdonald went on to challenge schools and HE institutions to tackle "the pervasive culture of low expectations". And he suggested schools themselves should ensure teachers become better at spotting pupils'
potential whatever their social circumstances. Former pupils who have done well academically should become "ambassadors for higher education" for the next generation.
Ironically, Mr Macdonald was speaking at a time when the Scottish Executive's forthcoming curriculum review will undoubtedly hear complaints that the school curriculum is too academic.
Speaking at the same conference, organised by Universities Scotland and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, Keir Bloomer, chief executive of Clackmannanshire Council and an adviser to the inquiry on education in the last parliament, described the secondary curriculum as "excessively academic, subject-dominated, content-driven and over-assessed".