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13 November 2017, 06:20
Universities across Scotland have vowed to widen access to people from the most deprived areas of the country at a faster rate.
Action to be taken includes contextualised admissions, making clearer the minimum entry requirements for all courses, making it easier for students to move from college direct to university courses and guaranteed offers for care to experienced applicants who meet minimum entry requirements.
The 15 recommendations of the Working to Widen Access report are to be enacted at Scotland's 19 higher education institutions.
Universities Scotland said it will make a "significant contribution" to a Scottish Government target of deprived backgrounds making up 20% of the student population by 2030.
Professor Sally Mapstone, principal and vice chancellor of the University of St Andrews, led the working group on university admissions.
She said: "Scotland is taking a big step forward with contextualised admissions in a concerted bid to widen access at a faster rate.
"Universities will set minimum entry requirements for all courses: we will be very clear to whom this applies; and we will use consistent, user-friendly language to describe the process.
"We want to ensure that all potential applicants from disadvantaged and non-traditional backgrounds understand that they are welcome, supported and belong at the heart of our universities.
"We are confident that making these changes will help more prospective students, and their advisers, to realise that opportunities are there, within touching distance.
"The reforms to admissions, combined with the new action we intend to take with schools and colleges, will tackle the challenge of widening access from many angles. There is a lot to do but it is very encouraging to see momentum build behind this programme of work."
Greater "clarity and consistency" is also to be used in the terms and language that universities use when it comes to widening access.
Professor Andrea Nolan, convener of Universities Scotland, said: "There is a will and a shared commitment amongst principals to push beyond what we have already been doing to widen access, to work with the latest evidence and respond with new ways of doing things.
"I believe our actions holds the key elements that will make a real difference.
"Student recruitment is typically an area of intense competition between universities. Taking action to join up, agree a shared language and achieve more consistency in our admissions processes shows that we are serious about doing things differently.
"We've already turned our attention to delivery and I will give my full support to ensure we keep up the momentum."
The Scottish Conservatives welcomed the commitment.
Shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: "It is essential that all applicants, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, know exactly what will be required of them as they make that application.
"We also very much welcome the fact that the new policy will be evidence based and that widening access will be judged by successful student outcomes rather than by meeting any artificial Scottish Government target.
"These two aspects of the policy are absolutely vital if the outstanding academic reputation of Scotland's universities is to be maintained.
"At the end of the day, the success of the widening access policy will largely depend on whether there is sufficient focus on raising attainment in schools."