Don't forget the college route to HE

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
There has long been a confusion between university and higher education, sometimes even among education professionals. So why should media headline writers, pupils and parents be expected to be any less confused? The question is prompted by this week's major report from Universities Scotland (page five) on "the factors affecting decisions to apply to higher education institutions amongst under-represented young people". So we are talking about HEIs, not all of which are universities, and (presumably) about full-time undergraduate courses which are not the only show in the university town.

There is no doubt that the differential paths to university, based on social circumstances, are a blot on the landscape and, as the Lifelong Learning Minister put it, steps must be taken to "up our game". There is too little information of the right sort, funding issues are a nightmare of complexity and schools need to re-examine their expectations of pupils.

Having said that, there is probably more information than ever before to lure youngsters to university, funding may be complex but there are many sources and schools are beginning to change their ways.

But the point remains that the obsession with having a specific target for entry to higher education (not universities) is obscuring some of the real issues. Higher education is, perhaps confusingly for some, offered through further education colleges as well as universities - indeed the figure of 50 per cent of youngsters on higher education courses in Scotland would not have been achieved without the contribution of Higher National qualifications.

So, while we strive to open pupils' eyes to the riches of HE, we should not get hung up solely on universities. Surely the key point was made by headteacher Lindsay Roy that we should be trying to raise the aspirations of all youngsters, irrespective of whether they wish to go to university.

That is true comprehensive education.

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