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Too poor to think of return to college;Post-16 conference

Post-16 conference: Poverty bars 89 per cent of lowest classes from higher education.

MORE than 50,000 households in Glasgow have no adult in employment, a conference on wider access to post-16 education was told last week.

It was a "stunning and staggering'' problem and underlined the difficulties further and higher education institutions have in attracting people from low-income families back into learning, Professor Alan McGregor told the conference at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Over the last 20 years, the gap between those in employment and those "not employed" had widened, as had the wages between the higher and average paid and the lowest paid. The most disadvantaged communities were now more distant than ever from the average Scottish household, said Professor McGregor, head of economic development at Glasgow University.

"Children are growing up in neighbourhoods where their experience in the household is one of pessimism, demoralisation, getting by week to week and having no sense of a long-term perspective. When you put these households together into streets, you have strong reinforcing effects," he continued.

People were fragile, lacked self-esteem and had low aspirations. "The problem is that 16 and 17 year olds have aspirations for an unskilled job, paying a very low rate of pay. If that is their goal, then higher education does not come into their landscape at all, and that's a function of communities that have been beat up for many, many years," Professor McGregor said.

He advised access staff to "tease" such people into involvement and make provision in their own local communities. It needed skilled, dedicated and motivated staff to overcome the difficulties. They had to work through community organisations. Once problems became deep-seated, you have to throw even more money at them, he said.

"There are no big programmes that are going to solve this problem because people have all sorts of different problems. Some men may have been unemployed for five years; a woman may have been looking at their partner for 20 years,'' he went on.

It was now fully accepted that education had a leading role in urban regeneration, Professor McGregor concluded.

Earlier, Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, said it was no longer acceptable for only 11 per cent of the lowest socio-economic groups to go into higher education. "The funding system has failed these people so badly in opening up opportunities and I'm not a defender of the status quo," he told the conference.

New funding plans should not act as a disincentive since such students would pay no tuition fees and loans were based on eventual income levels, Mr Wilson stated.

The minister announced a pound;6 million package to help students from low-income families take part-time degrees. But Professor Tom Schuller, of Edinburgh University's continuing education department, attacked the plan for being restricted to degree courses. Higher national certificates and diplomas should also be included , he said. The minister acknowleged the point but insisted the three-year scheme was a pilot.

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