The SNP Government's policy of free higher education in Scotland has been praised by the country's Commissioner for Fair Access, Professor Sir Peter Scott, who said a rise in the number of poor students at university proved the policy is "vindicated", while issuing a warning over £9,250 tuition fees in England, describing the “collapsing” system there.
Sir Scott spoke as it was revealed last week that record numbers of students from Scotland’s poorest backgrounds have secured a place at university.
Figures, published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), show that 15.6% of students entering university were from the 20% most deprived areas in 2017/18. This is only 0.4% below the SNP Government’s target for 2021, meaning we are likely to surpass this target of 16% early.
Professor Scott said:
“What makes the latest figures particularly encouraging is that they follow three years when there was little improvement in the proportion of full-time first degree students from the most deprived areas.
“This led some critics of the Government’s red-line policy of free higher education to argue that England was doing more for fair access despite charging students high fees.
“The latest figures vindicate Scotland’s policy of free higher education, which of course has other aims apart from making universities more socially inclusive - not least the commitment that higher education should be seen as a public good from which society as a whole benefits.”
Professor Scott said the English policy of “high fees, mitigated by bursaries for poorer students”, was now collapsing, commenting:
“It is so expensive, not just for students who graduate with tens of thousands of pounds of debt, but also for taxpayers who have to fund student loans in the first place, many of which will never be paid back.”
Kenneth Gibson MSP added:
“It is very heartening to see a record increase in entrants from our most deprived areas.
"Combined with recent University College and Admissions Service statistics , this shows demonstrable progress towards giving every young person in Scotland an equal chance of success, no matter their background or circumstance.
"It is also great to see a record number of enrolments and an increased number of qualifications achieved in 2017/18. All of this speaks to the level of excellence found across our higher education institutions.
“Only this week, a report published by the Scottish Science Advisory Council showed that Scotland is punching well above its weight when it comes to science and research. It found that Scottish research is high quality, Scottish researchers are ‘very productive’ and Scotland publishes more papers per researcher than the other UK nations and all other countries in the report.
“All of this attests to the effectiveness of SNP policies which put education at the centre and has broken down barriers for those who are from a deprived background.”