THE eccentrically-titled 3sixty0 University for Children and Communities is - once deconstructed - an access programme. Aimed at encouraging children from a young age in the north-east of the country to consider higher education, it is paralleled by schemes in Lothian and greater Glasgow. Although the university tradition is strong in Grampian, there are parts of Aberdeen and of the landward area that send very few people to higher education, and so the new "university" is to be commended.
It has a unique quality, which may turn out to be a step too far. The pilot secondaries have a target of ensuring that within three years they will equal or surpass the Scottish average of 31 per cent of leavers entering HE. By 2010, at least half of leavers from these schools, where the proportion at present hovers around 10 per cent, will be HE bound. Thecultural shift needed is huge, as is the rise in academic achievement. Outsiders will observe 3sixty0 with interest and, initially at least, with disbelief.
If, however, social inclusion is to work and be worth the millions invested in it, targets such as those for (in the first year) Northfield Academy and the Gordon Schools, Huntly, will need to prove practicable. The Executive is committing moral capital, too, not least in memory of Donald Dewar.
The north-east project starts in primary. Robert Beattie, chairman of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, makes plain (FE Focus, page 38) the obligation on colleges to seek out lifelong learners in pursuit of the same inclusive goal. And the issues running across the age groups will be explored today in the conference run by Edinburgh City Council and the TES Scotland.