Unique system is helping to `bridge university divide'
Routes that enable college students to move straight to the second or third year of a university degree have been praised for opening the door to higher education for those from poorer backgrounds.
Alan Milburn, the chair of the UK-wide Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, said that the process, known as articulation, was a unique Scottish system and "one of the best ways I have seen of overcoming the divide that is all too pervasive in other countries between further and higher education".
Figures published earlier this month by the Scottish Funding Council show that the number of Scottish students with an HNC or HND who entered the second or third year of a university degree course had risen by more than 17 per cent, from 2,957 in 2010-11 to 3,469 in 2012-13.
But speaking at the Learning for All 2014 conference in Edinburgh earlier this month, Mr Milburn also warned there was a risk that Scotland could "sleepwalk into a social mobility crisis unless urgent action is taken".
"I find it striking that while in England social mobility is part of today's political lexicon - and all political parties proclaim it as the Holy Grail of public policy - in Scotland, the concept is largely absent," he said.
"There is, of course, a real and welcome focus on the impact that poverty has on children's lives and what is needed to help people off the bottom of society," he continued.
"But there seems to be far less focus on helping youngsters, regardless of background, move up or get to the top. Policies like free university tuition fees may even have lulled policymakers into believing that Scotland has the problem cracked."
However, Mr Milburn said that articulation was a "crucial bridge between school and work" and provided a "great foundation for helping many more youngsters from less well-off backgrounds make the journey into higher education".
Articulation has grown in importance since 2012, when the Scottish government started to provide additional funding for places. Many colleges have built strong relationships with universities to create clear paths for students.
Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland, said that a route straight from school to university "simply won't be right" for many people.
He said that students entering university through articulation were almost twice as likely to be from the most deprived communities in Scotland and had a great record of success, with lower than average dropout rates.
"The fact that access rates are high and dropout rates are low means that far from being ill-prepared for studying at degree level, these students perform just as well as others," he said.
A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said the sector was making progress on widening access through articulation.
"We can expect to see a greater rate of progress from 2015 onwards as students take up additional articulation places - funded by the Scottish government and welcomed by the sector - and start moving from college to university.
"It is incumbent on universities and colleges to ensure that students who want to make the transition are well prepared to succeed in higher education", she added.
Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said that colleges had a vital role to play in widening access to university for students from the most deprived communities.
"Colleges and universities are now working much closer together to ensure that students coming to university from colleges are not made to repeat work unnecessarily," she said.