A TOP academic has compared the medical profession to plumbing, as he questioned why students need outstanding grades to become doctors.

Professor Alan Gilloran, deputy principal of Queen Margaret University, said that society should reconsider how it views different professions and called for a re-think of established hierarchies in terms of jobs.

The former Dean of Health and Social Sciences at the university said that medicine "is plumbing, for God's sake" when being questioned by MSPs on the educational attainment gap in Scotland.

"It's a massive problem of how societies place hierarchies in terms of jobs," he said. "The tradition for medicine, for law, to be seen as the pinnacles of achievement, I think we all have a responsibility to actually challenge our established orthodoxies in terms of, why is medicine (seen as a pinnacle of achievement)? I mean, it is plumbing for God's sake."

He accepted that his comments were provocative, adding: "Yes, there's a lot of theory in there but should we not challenge why you have to have five As at Higher in order to be a doctor? Does that make the best doctors?

"I think medical schools are challenging that. I think medical schools are looking at a wider range of people. So, I think we all have a duty to challenge that hierarchy.

"I don't necessarily think the medical profession is as far up the tree as it was, say, in my father's generation. So, I think society has changed."

The comments came as part of a discussion in which experts said it was important to move away from a mindset in which traditionally academic subjects are seen as superior to vocational courses. Glasgow City Council, in a submission to MSPs, said it regarded medicine as a vocational course, an opinion echoed by Terry Lanagan, Executive Director of Educational Services at West Dunbartonshire Council.

Mr Lanagan said that his organisation was attempting to get away from using the term "vocational", as it was often viewed as inferior to academic education.

"I wouldn't for a minute try to undermine the importance of academic education and a strong academic educational system is going to be very important to Scotland's educational system," he added.

"However, the fact is, traditionally, people who are delivering education are people who have come through the academic route, and therefore are predisposed towards thinking that that is the route to success and it is that sort of mindset that we need to get beyond."

MSPs heard that disaffected children who were not seen as performing well academically were often directed to vocational courses as teenagers. It was suggested that work experience and employability skills should be part of the curriculum at an earlier stage, as a way of changing mindsets.

Currently, around half of pupils do not follow an academic pathways and leave school without Highers. Skills for work courses offered at colleges or late stages of schools include automotive skills, hairdressing, hospitality and engineering.

West of Scotland MSP, Stewart Maxwell, suggested there the issue would never be overcome while status and financial security was linked to succeeding academically.

"I think we're agreed about this problem of how it's viewed in terms of academic and vocational in the general culture of the country," he said. "Isn't the fundamental problem that while status and financial security are tied up with succeeding academically, that's the way parents, schools, culture and society will continue to push children? Isn't it a fundamental problem in society rather than us trying to muck about with this course versus that course?"