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Universities need to be smarter to attract more students from our poorer areas

I read the article on widening access at St Andrews University with some surprise ("University 'demonised' for failing to widen access", The Herald, November 27).

I was prepared to give Stephen Magee, vice-principal of the university, the benefit of the doubt until I heard him expand his views on radio.

I write as a long-standing headteacher of a school serving the very areas which Mr Magee seems to think could do better.

He talks as if education is a level playing field, and that if only schools in deprived areas would do their job properly he would happily admit them, clutching their five Higher passes. The negative effects of poverty are well recorded; the advantages of private schooling with small class sizes or attending state schools in affluent areas both with paid after-school tutors are also well known. Universities do not need to lower standards to take account of students' backgrounds, they need to be smarter and more proactive in working with schools to identify talented pupils who with continued support will flourish at university.

I refer Mr Magee to our own work with the University of Glasgow, another ancient and highly ranked university. We entered into a formal partnership with the university in February, with the full support of the principal, Anton Muscatelli, and the Cabinet Secretary, Michael Russell. While focused on initial teacher education, the other benefits of our work are considerable, and show what a university committed to widening access can achieve.

I have no doubt our connection with Glasgow has already raised pupil aspirations, and will feed through to more of our talented pupils gaining university places. I would further commend to him the excellent top-up scheme supported by all the west coast higher education institutions.

Mr Magee would benefit from talking to forward-looking colleagues at Glasgow who are committed to widening access, rather than recycling out-of-date excuses for inaction.

Stirling Mackie

Headteacher, Irvine Royal Academy, Kilwinning Road, Irvine.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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