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OPINION - The importance of equal access to Higher Education in Scotland

Friday 29 January 2021

Professor Liz Hancock
Professor Elizabeth Hancock, Vice-Principal for Academic Development and Student Experience and Deputy Principal, writes about the importance of equal access to Higher Education in Scotland.

Education should be available to all, it can transform lives and create opportunities around the world. No matter of background or circumstance, it is important that everyone has equal access to Higher Education in Scotland.

Ensuring that all in our society can access the learning and skills they need to succeed - for themselves, their families and for our economy - is at the heart of Scotland’s ambitions for inclusive growth and enhanced productivity. Universities, together with other education institutions, play an important role in widening access across the professions and developing the workforce of the future.

Access to higher education can provide genuine life changing opportunities. A university is known as a Corporate Parent, which is an organisation or person in power who has special responsibilities to care experienced or children from a looked after background and young people. This includes those in residential care, those in foster care, those in kinship care who live with a family member other than a parent and those who are looked after at home with social work involvement. Not only is it vital that these individuals feel they have the opportunity to attend a university or college, it is also important that these learners are supported throughout their studies.

Most parents do much more than the basics to ensure that their child gets the individualised care and opportunities to achieve and enjoy a full and rewarding life. Society expects this from Corporate Parents too, and this is reflected in the aims of the Scottish Government’s Children and Young People Act 2014.

Some of the most talented learners in our colleges and universities are care experienced. These students join us with a wealth of skills and determination and are rightly proud, as we are, of their achievements to date.

Like any student coming to college or university, care experienced students have already secured much success; their talent and commitment, together with the support of those around them, have enabled them to progress to the next stage of their learner journey. It is important that universities and colleges are alert to their needs, promote their interests and seek to provide opportunities that will help them to succeed in their studies and as individuals.

This is where partnership and engagement play a huge role. There are several Widening Access bodies across Scotland responsible for delivering activities in schools or on campus. These activities are designed to encourage young people to consider applying for higher education but also to continue to support them throughout their journey.

Robert Gordon University (RGU) has a strong tradition of widening access to study through partnership with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council and other institutions, to fully support Scotland’s ambition to ensure that people have the support to succeed and that individuals feel supported as they navigate their studies and grow.

Engagement is also the driving force behind the university’s approach to promoting inclusion and encouraging participation in higher education. It is the responsibility of the entire university and ensures the most deprived learners are reached and supported effectively through a targeted and sustained programme of advice and guidance.

As part of our ongoing commitment to widening access, we have also signed the Stand Alone Pledge, which will provide additional support to estranged students.

Estranged students are those who apply for university and enrol on a course without the support of a family network. They may face particular challenges in accessing and continuing in higher education and can benefit from bespoke support and advice tailored to their individual circumstances.

The pledge was launched by Stand Alone, an organisation that supports institutions to implement measures to enable estranged students to access and thrive in higher education. By signing the pledge, we are publicly committing to this support and to begin working towards creating the right environment for these students to succeed in their studies.

Going to university or college leads to new ways of seeing the world, to new horizons and new ambitions.  It provides individuals with not only the knowledge but the skills, experience and confidence to pursue successful and rewarding careers. The ultimate goal of ensuring that all of Scotland’s people have access to high quality education is rightly one that RGU strives for.

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