On paper, it looks simple. Advanced Highers, Scottish Baccalaureates, Higher National Certificates and the first year of university are judged to be at the same level. Ergo, the argument goes, they should be interchangeable: a student with an HNC from college should be able to go straight into the second year of university, alongside school leavers with Advanced Highers or a Scottish Baccalaureate. At the same time, university and student costs would be reduced. A no-brainer.
In practice, it is more complicated. Just because qualifications are judged to be at an equivalent level does not mean they are the same in terms of content or knowledge. And let's not forget that higher education is not just about academic qualifications: it is also a social experience.
There is evidence that students joining second or third year university courses with an HNC or HND tend to struggle and drop out. That may be in part because they need more pastoral as well as academic support. No research has yet been carried out on how the small number of direct second-year entry students with Advanced Highers fare. But it is reasonable to suppose that they, too, would require additional support if they were joining an established cohort of students. Increasing the number of accelerated-entry students could well mean that improving the transition experience is simply delayed from first to second year.
Michael Russell is right to say that there are overlaps between final year in school and first year in university. But there are also discontinuities in the content of courses which, going by the experience of Higher National students, will have to be addressed before there can be a smooth transition.
Greater flexibility in university entry for a more diverse group of students is a fine ambition - but it must not come at a price.
Neil Munro editor of the year (business and professional magazine).