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Aspiration, not access, the problem for deprived student numbers

27 Nov 2012

Liz Smith MSP

St Andrews University has spoken out after repeated criticism that it does not do enough to attract students from deprived backgrounds.

It has highlighted figures showing only 220 school pupils from the country’s 20 most deprived zones achieved three or more A passes at Higher level.

The university said it would have to either live with the ongoing criticism, or lower its academic standards significantly, a move that would damage its reputation as a world-leading institution.

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said:

“The message from St Andrews is clear; while individual universities will want to pursue their own initiatives to widen access, the real focus of the policy should be on raising standards and aspiration in every school.

“Too many universities are reporting concerns about weak attainment levels among a sizeable cohort of school leavers and inevitably this means their chances of obtaining a place at university are diminished, especially when set alongside the very intense international competition.

“Some universities and colleges have been hugely successful in attracting more pupils from socially disadvantaged communities and, just as importantly, ensuring that these pupils achieve academic excellence while they are at university.

“They have achieved this without government legislation and I hope the Scottish Government will be mindful of the fact that it is a collaborative approach, driven by the individual universities which works best.

“Entrance to university must be based on academic merit.

“We must therefore ensure all schools provide pupils with the relevant skills to make this possible.”