ALL Scottish universities are committed to recruiting more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Despite a variety of initiatives including access courses and summer schools, there is a long way to go.
The new £1m programme by Glasgow Caledonian University, revealed by The Herald today, to create a hub for school pupils to gain Advanced Highers is the most substantial yet.
By employing teachers to provide a range of courses, 200 pupils from schools across the city will be able to study for post-Higher qualifications which are rarely available in schools where few go on to university. This gives the scheme a number of significant advantages.
Advanced Highers are valued by universities when making admission decisions. They also provide a better preparation than Highers for university study, making it less likely that students will drop out. By travelling to a university hub in the city centre, young people from disadvantaged areas will not only benefit from similar classroom teaching to their middle-class peers but will also have a shared experience. Additionally, it will demystify the idea of university for teenagers.
This is a generous and pioneering commitment to widening access on the part of GCU, which already has more than one-third of undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds and is likely to benefit from an equal commitment on the part of grateful future students.
It is right that Glasgow City Council is in partnership with the university because the initiative will ensure that the most able pupils in disadvantaged areas are not denied the level of education they deserve at a time when budget cuts make it impossible to extend provision in schools. Other universities, notably Glasgow, have also been proactive in providing new bridges to higher education for less-advantaged potential students. Dundee University has also provided teaching for Advanced Higher in maths. Others lower entrance qualifications for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, but this is a problem if significant numbers then drop out.
The real advantage of the GCU programme is that it tackles the inequality at an earlier stage and offers a practical, and overdue, solution to a missing link in the education system. Other institutions and councils should consider whether they could do the same.