Two Scottish universities have recently announced highly innovative schemes to improve access to Advanced Highers for pupils from state schools in deprived areas.

The projects at Glasgow Caledonian University and Dundee University have been launched amid growing concern over the availability of the qualification.

Advanced Highers are increasingly seen as the best preparation for university and add considerable weight to a higher education application, but access can be limited in schools where few pupils want to take them.

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That means pupils in middle-class areas or private schools can have a much fuller range to choose from than bright pupils in more deprived areas.

Under the new initiatives, backed by the Scottish Funding Council, pupils from secondary schools with a limited choice will have the opportunity to travel to the university "hub" to study courses they would otherwise not be exposed to.

In the case of Glasgow Caledonian University the benefit is even greater because pupils who do well will be given entry with advanced standing to degree courses as part of a drive to widen access.

But while the work of both universities in this area has been widely welcomed, a note of caution has been sounded by teaching unions about the ultimate impact of these initiatives.

Part of the reason why local authorities such as Glasgow and Dundee have welcomed the projects is because they are currently battling with the impact of cuts.

Many schools across Scotland are facing tough choices over which courses they can continue to offer with Advanced Highers increasingly vulnerable.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, believes the university initiatives open up the possibility that some schools will drop Advanced Highers entirely - with little prospect of them starting up again in the current financial climate.

In the long term that could exacerbate the current problems of access to Advanced Highers, particularly because the budget for the university initiatives has only been provided on a short-term pilot basis.

"It is welcome that the university initiatives are seeking to address a problem, but it would be best if this was a supplement to and not a replacement for access to such courses," said Mr Flanagan.