GROWING numbers of pupils are being taught key qualifications at university as schools struggle to offer a full set of subjects.

Several universities are now working in partnership with councils to deliver Advanced Highers – with projects running in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.

One of the most established initiatives is an Advanced Higher hub at Glasgow Caledonian University where hundreds of pupils from schools across the city travel to study every week.

First choice is given to those from schools in disadvantaged communities where subject selection can be limited because of a lack of demand.

Dundee University operates a similar model with up to 120 pupils a year studying Advanced Highers at a campus hub as well as dedicated programmes to develop skills in art, design and architecture.

Aberdeen University runs events to support pupils studying science Advanced Highers, allowing them to use laboratory equipment helped by student demonstrators and academic staff.

Glasgow University also opens its science laboratories to Advanced Higher pupils and the Open University runs a nationwide scheme allowing S6 pupils to study first year university modules.

Dr Neil Croll, Glasgow University’s head of widening participation, said there was likely to be more collaboration in future at both Advanced Higher and Higher level.

He said: “This has grown out of one staff member suggesting it to a couple of schools, but it has now established itself as the norm for schools that don’t have the appropriate facilities in terms of science labs.”

A spokesman for Universities Scotland, which represent university principals, said growing partnerships between schools and universities was also aimed at driving the agenda of widening access to under-represented groups.

He said: “Universities are increasingly involved in the provision of opportunities at Advanced Higher, as these projects show.

“This has been very positive with strong outcomes for pupils including enhanced subject choice and experience of higher education.

“The motivation for universities is a desire for equality of opportunity for young people and better preparation of school pupils for university.”

The development has been welcomed by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which helps fund the hub at Glasgow Caledonian.

John Kemp, interim chief executive of the SFC, said: “There is huge value in schools, colleges and universities working together.

“We can do more in this area to make sure we offer the best routes for students and also make the best use of public funding.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, said partnership projects were meeting the needs of pupils at a time of diminishing resources.

He said: “Unfortunately, the availability of Advanced Higher courses in schools is often an issue of demand and limited resources.

“In this context, partnership working between councils and universities can be a practical solution.”

However, Mr Flanagan said it was essential secondary schools continued to offer a comprehensive range of Higher courses.

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU lecturers union, also warned over the wider climate of budget cuts.

She said: “These developments enable universities to ensure young people from deprived communities see higher education as a valid choice.

“However, we need to acknowledge the wider public sector funding context too, with all parts of the education sector under strain.

“Pupils should not need to use university labs or studios because local schools are not funded properly.”

Jodie Waite, vice-president of student body NUS Scotland, called on institutions to support pupils when arriving at a university campus.

“We need to ensure the right support, both welfare and financial, is in place so pupils can stay and succeed,” she said.

Case Study:

THE most established model of collaboration between universities and schools is the Advanced Higher hub at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Set up five years ago and costing some £350,000 a year to run, the hub sees pupils from across the city travelling to the campus every week to study Advanced Highers not available in their own schools.

Pupils from schools in more disadvantaged areas are given first choice of places and make up the majority of students.

Although pupils go on to pursue a range of future options, including degrees at other universities, Glasgow Caledonian allows successful pupils onto their own programmes as part of the drive to widen access.

The hub, which is currently teaching 145 pupils from 26 schools, has had remarkable results with record pass rates of 90 per cent compared to a national average of 81 per cent.

Eleanor Wilson, the university’s strategic lead for engagement and outreach, said the hub was developed as a response to concerns schools were unable to offer a range of Advanced Highers.

She said: “We were noticing pupils in sixth year were trying to increase the grades they got at Higher rather than stretching themselves with Advanced Highers.

“They couldn’t do the Advanced Higher of their choice because the school didn’t run it and if they were able to do one they were often sitting in classes with Higher pupils self-directing their own study.

“We felt there was a gap there which we could plug, but over the past five years the hub has become more of a bridging programme.

“Whilst the qualifications are a fantastic end result it is actually what they get on top of that to prepare them for the transition from school to university can be incredibly profound. We are preparing them for higher education entry.”

Mrs Wilson now believes the hub model, which is jointly funded by the Scottish Funding Council and Glasgow City Council, with the university providing support staff and facilities, could be rolled out successfully across the country to increase the availability of Advanced Highers.

Leah Wright, 17, from St Pauls High School, in Pollok, who is studying chemistry and maths, said the experience had been very rewarding. “It is very different to school with a lot more independence,” she said.

“It’s a new environment with people you don’t know and the teachers are new so you have to keep proving to them you are capable of fulfilling the course.”

Abbie Fenton, 17, from Smithycroft Secondary, in the east end of the city, who is studying business management, said it was “nerve-wracking” when she first came because there was only one other pupil from her school.

She said: “We are a really close group now. It’s good to be with people all aiming for the same goal who have similar ideas about what they want.”