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Plan to widen university access has wider implications

Scottish youngsters who could expect to go to university under the current applications system may lose out in future under plans to offer more places to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, a Scottish government official has admitted.

Tracey Slaven, deputy director of higher education and learner support, told the Scottish Parliament's education committee this week that as a result of the government's policy on widening access there would be "some potential students who don't get access to university who might have hoped to do so".

Access to university was competitive and the government was trying to make it as fair as possible by basing it on the ability to learn (rather than the number of exam passes), she added.

Ms Slaven was giving evidence to the committee on the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill, which gives ministers the power to use financial incentives to make universities do more to recruit students from the poorest backgrounds.

SNP MSP Clare Adamson asked whether displacement could be avoided if, as the financial memorandum stated, there was to be no additional money for the bill to pay for more student places.

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, who followed a similar line of questioning, said after the meeting: "I strongly support the aim of increasing opportunities for those from less well-off backgrounds to access university courses.

"However, the way this is achieved is critically important. What we have heard from the Scottish government today confirms the fear that many Scots-domiciled students who currently have such opportunities will lose out in future."

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