University admissions director defends widening access policy

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Photo: Remi Mathis

The Director of Access and Scottish/EU admissions at the University of St Andrews Mike Johnson said universities had a good “student diversity” policy without having to be a “charitable venture.”

Figures from June of this year by the admissions body UCAS showed that the number of 18 year olds from Scotland’s poorest areas going to university was down.

It further showed that 1,215 applicants from the most deprived 20 per cent of areas were awarded a university place last year, down from 1,305 the previous year.

The figure was also lower than the 1,235 successful applicants from that group in 2013 – but higher than the figures for the three years before that.

There was also an increase in 18-year-olds from Scotland’s most affluent communities going to university, with the figure rising from 4,605 in 2014 to 4,685 last year.

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Johnson said that St Andrews had outreach programmes which connected with local communities.

He further stated that a good university needed “diversity of thought” from its “diversity of students.”

Mr Johnson was speaking to BBC Scotland radio presenter Bill Whiteford, who was hosting a Good Morning Scotland programme from St Andrews.

During the interview the Director of Access and Scottish/EU admissions asserted: “We meet our funded places allocation with Scottish students, we cannot go above that cap but we always meet that number in terms of Scottish students.

“What we want to see is the diversity of the student, wherever that student comes from. “It shouldn’t be seen as some charitable venture at universities – this is about the diversity of a student bringing diversity of thought, we want many world views. “When students are in tutorials we want them to come from different backgrounds, this is good for universities, there is no doubt about that.”

Charlotte Andrew, President of the Students Association said, “The University and the education sector in general should always be looking to achieve more in the area of widening access.”

She continued: “During my first few months as President I have been pleased to see the emphasis the University places upon access and outreach schemes. In her speech to incoming students in the Opening Ceremonies, our new Principal [Prof Sally Mapstone] specified three key values that she intends to follow throughout her time here; excellence, fairness and inclusivity.

“This is an area we share an interest in and I am confident that there will be concrete progress in this area during my term.

“The Scottish government has placed a major focus on cutting the attainment gap and increasing the number of Scots from the worst-off communities making it to university.

“Moreover, some experts and politicians believe that the cap on poorer students at Universities needs to be lifted to promote widening access.

Going on, she said, “The pursuit of ensuring we have students from a diversity of backgrounds and therefore increase our diversity of thought, as Mr Johnson stated, benefits all.

“This is where my policy of reaching out to those communities, speaking in those schools in person, should have a positive effect. It’s certainly not a cure-all, but this is a large issue across the education sector that requires many small steps before it can be eradicated.”

Convenor of Universities Scotland, Andrea Nolan, told BBC Scotland that it was important to offer “as many opportunities as we can to people who we believe have the potential and the ability to succeed.”

She continued “In Scotland we have a fixed number of places for Scottish and EU domicile students and as we seek to widen access to people from communities that are underrepresented at universities that is going to put pressure in a fixed system.”

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