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Scotland's higher education spending is not doing enough to attract poorer students

29 May 2014

Scotland is lagging behind the other home nations when it comes to broadening the social make-up of universities campuses, says a report released today.

The report from UCU analyses the effect that devolution is having on post-compulsory education in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.

The report, launched at the union's annual Congress, includes an analysis from HM Treasury of relative spending on further and higher education by each of the devolved nations. It also includes information about qualification levels and performance on widening participation measures.

It shows that, while Scotland and Northern Ireland spend roughly the same proportion of their education budgets on higher education (HE), Scotland lags behind Northern Ireland and the other home nations in key measures for widening participation. Findings from the report include:

  • Scotland has the highest percentage (14.4%) of people with an HE qualification below degree level (UK average= 8.9%), and the second highest proportion of people (24.4%) with a first degree or higher
  • Scottish people aged 25-29 are 48% more likely to hold a degree than the working age population as a whole
  • Scotland has the lowest percentage of university entrants from the poorest backgrounds (26.2%), and the lowest proportion of entrants from state schools (86.9%)
  • Northern Ireland, which spends a similar proportion of its education budget on higher education, reports the best results on both these measures

In response to the report's findings, UCU has launched a series of questions which will act as test for new policy initiatives*.

The union will be using these six tests as to assess whether emerging policies in different parts of the UK initiatives benefit education. The questions look at whether any proposals are fair for all students regardless of their age and circumstances; can attract and retain strong and stable staff and if they will deliver a system that offers the broadest possible choice of courses.

UCU Scotland official, Mary Senior, said: 'Scottish higher education spending policy is leading to a greater proportion of people getting HE qualifications than anywhere else in the UK. However, ministers must address Scotland's poor record on widening participation.

'While recent developments are welcome we need to see what lessons we can learn from other parts of the UK where the social make-up of university campuses is diversifying. Our new six tests will offer a thorough critique of new policy initiatives, and help us to renew the focus on access and participation in responding to proposals.'

*The 'six tests' to be applied to any policy/funding initiative are as follows:

  • Will the proposal make it easier for people to reach their full potential?
  • Will the proposal increase our academic capacity and research base?
  • Will the proposal make the UK a more attractive place for academic staff to work?
  • Will the proposal make it less costly for individuals to study, whether young or old?
  • Will the proposal broaden the range of subjects available for study?
  • Will the proposal lead to higher quality and reduced fragmentation in the sector?
Last updated: 10 December 2015