Poor students are being forced to ‘start over’ at uni

20th November 2015 at 00:00
Despite having higher national credits, more than 80% are made to join ancient universities in the first year

Most students from poor backgrounds who transfer from FE colleges to Scotland’s most ancient universities are not being given credit for their higher national (HN) qualifications, a report says.

The study shows that more than 80 per cent of students from the most deprived backgrounds had to enter their courses at these institutions in the first year, despite having completed university-level work. Fewer than 11 per cent were able to begin university with the full credit of their awarded college qualification. The rest received only partial credit.

“Effectively this means that these students, despite having already achieved an HE qualification, must start from scratch,” says the interim report of the Commission on Widening Access (CoWA), published last week.

The news prompted anger from students’ union NUS Scotland, which said it painted “a worrying picture” of the gap between how well old and new universities were improving access.

By contrast, at Scotland’s post-1992 universities more than 60 per cent of the most deprived students who had completed an HN qualification at college were able to move straight into the second, or even third year of their degree.

A ‘worrying picture’

Overall, 1,729 students from the most deprived backgrounds with an HN qualification entered degree programmes at Scottish universities in 2013-14.

Of these, 746 had to start their course in the first year, while 888 were able to begin with full credit awarded. Another 94 had only partial credit awarded. A very small number of students could not be categorised.

The report stresses that “articulation” – the process of moving from college into university – has been “a real success story of Scottish higher education”. However, the full potential of the process has yet to be realised, it adds.

Vonnie Sandlan, president of NUS Scotland, said the figures painted “a worrying picture of the gulf between how our ancient and more modern institutions are performing”.

She said: “It should be the responsibility of every university to support college students into higher education. However, some institutions are shamefully underperforming.

“Not only do our ancient universities account for just a tiny fraction of overall articulation, but eight out of 10 students articulating into an ancient university are forced to start over again in their first year.

“For many, this means repeating years of study they’ve already done at college. That isn’t just a waste of their time, money and potential, but it also wastes the resources we have available for higher education.”

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said there were “clear examples” from across Scotland where articulation was “working well”.

“We aim to build on these partnerships to help widen access to all universities,” she said.

The CoWA, chaired by Dame Ruth Silver, was set up a year ago as part of the government’s commitment to ensuring that 20 per cent of university entrants come from the most disadvantaged 20 per cent of society.

In its interim report, the commission says it is clear that “through accident of birth, a whole section of Scottish society has nothing like an equal opportunity to maximise their talent and reap the benefits of higher education”.

It adds: “We believe that this is fundamentally unfair and that the ultimate goal of widening access should be to eliminate socioeconomic inequality.”

Barriers to access exist at all stages of education, from early years and school through to admissions and retention, the report states.

‘Appropriate entry points’

Rebecca Gaukroger, director of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Edinburgh, said they welcomed “a large number of students from colleges each year”.

“In assessing the appropriate entry point for an HNC- or HND-qualified applicant, the university considers the curriculum fit between the specific HN qualification and degree programme,” she added. “Wherever possible, advanced entry is offered.”

Universities Scotland director Alastair Sim pointed out that there had been a 9.2 per cent increase in the number of students articulating with full credit for their HN qualification, known as advanced standing, in 2013-14.

However, he said that learning, teaching and assessment regimes often varied significantly, making it “vital” that colleges and universities worked together to support students.

Access – but only for some

Number of students with HN qualifications from the most deprived backgrounds entering degree programmes at Scottish universities in 2013-14:

At ancients: 113

At post-1992s: 1,288

All Scottish universities: 1,729

Number of those students who entered with their full credit awarded:

At ancients: 12

At post-1992s: 791

All Scottish universities: 888

Number who had to start in the first year:

At ancients: 91

At post-1992s: 448

All Scottish universities: 746

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