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Disadvantaged students in Scotland less likely to go to university than their English counterparts

Jonny Clark

27th May 2016

Modern economists focus more clearly on increasing equality and access both as a social objective and as a means of achieving higher economic growth. Attending university and attaining a valuable degree qualification has been statistically proven as one of the key methods of increasing income opportunities. You may also be aware that Scottish residents do not have to pay Higher Education tuition fees (unlike the considerable sums paid by English and Welsh students); a fact that might suggest that access to universities would be greater among Scottish students who may come from a more disadvantaged social background.

A report from an organisation called the Sutton Trust suggests that this is not necessarily the case. Whilst the report findings suggest that a higher proportion of Scottish people under the age of 30 attend higher eduction compared to English students (55% in Scotland compared to 46.6% in England), those from wealthier backgrounds in Scotland are four times more likely to go to university than those from disadvantaged families. In England, wealthier students are 2.6 times more likely to attend university compared to their disadvantaged counterparts. In short, the report suggests access to universities is poorer for disadvantaged students in Scotland compared to England, despite tuition fees being paid for all Scottish residents.

The report indicates some of the reasons behind this anomaly. There is a greater tradition for Scottish students to continue Higher Education at local Colleges rather than universities with 21% studying at FE colleges compared to just 6% in England. Ultimately, however, the report recommends there is a greater amount of available courses in Scottish universities and that more is done to encourage young people to attend universities in Scotland.

This is a good example for students considering policies that a Government may put in place either as a supply-side policy or to improve equality that may not have had the level of impact that was desired. The Scottish Government clearly believe that by paying tuition fees for Higher Education students they can improve equality by assuring access and hope to drive up skills at the same time. Although the report suggests equality of access is improving in Scotland it would still appear to lag behind England.

Last year the Scottish Government announced a widening-access Commission to invesitgate and recommend improvement to equality of access with some information available from this short Youtube clip.

Jonny Clark

Jon Clark has been teaching economics and business studies for over 25 years primarily in the Further Education sector. Before joining tutor2u, he was a senior manager at South Cheshire College in Crewe.

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