Scott condemns Shetlanders' exclusion from university access schemes


Scottish Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson and MSP for Shetland Tavish Scott has written to the Principal of Edinburgh University, Professor Peter Mathieson, criticising the move to award clearing places only to those students identified as being from poorer backgrounds by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), a decision which excludes every prospective student from a more deprived background currently living in Shetland.

This approach has been criticised by University of Edinburgh Professor of Education Policy, Lindsay Paterson who highlighted figures suggesting that 65 per cent of young people from low income households do not live in the SIMD 20 postcodes. A paper from the Commission on Widening Access, published in March 2016, stated that "SIMD, as an area based measure, is considered too blunt to identify individual circumstances".

The letter is copied to Education Secretary John Swinney and the Commissioner for Fair Access, Sir Peter Scott, and follows Mr Scott’s criticism earlier this year of Aberdeen University’s decision to award a year’s free university accommodation to SIMD 20 students at a cost of some £130,000, and new information acquired through a Lib Dem FOI request showing Robert Gordon University also operating two SIMD only schemes, one of which gives students a goody bag worth £250.

Mr Scott wrote:

Dear Professor Mathieson,

I write regarding the news this week that the University of Edinburgh will only offer clearing places to applicants identified as being from poorer backgrounds by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), a decision which excludes every prospective student from a more deprived background currently living in Shetland. 

It is certainly welcome the University is committed to increasing the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, I have serious concerns about this policy to restrict clearing places to those from the SIMD20 postcodes. This is a crude mechanism to target those most disadvantaged young people. Indeed, University of Edinburgh Professor of Education Policy, Lindsay Paterson, has criticised the approach, highlighting figures suggesting that 65 per cent of young people from low income households do not live in the SIMD 20 postcodes. A paper from the Commission on Widening Access, published in March 2016, also specifically states that "SIMD, as an area based measure, is considered too blunt to identify individual circumstances". 

You will recognise the consequence of this policy is that applicants from entire communities are excluded, like from my own constituency of Shetland which has no SIMD postcodes. In 2016, despite figures showing that Shetland had the lowest level of child poverty across local authorities in Scotland, there were still more than 400 children living in poverty and here, like in other rural areas, young people facing a high cost of living do not always have easy access to many of the opportunities available to those on mainland Scotland. 

There is no one simple and faultless measure of deprivation but it is stating the obvious to say that a prospective student’s personal circumstances cannot be ascertained solely by their postcode. Therefore, I would urge you to reconsider this flawed policy. 

I encourage the University to continue taking steps to increase the diversity of its student body but I hope that going forward the number of Scottish students from the most deprived backgrounds will increase through greater outreach and with more contextual offers to disadvantaged students, rather than through a last minute push through clearing. 

I am copying this to the Education Secretary John Swinney, given the Scottish Government’s widening access policy, and the Commissioner for Fair Access, Sir Peter Scott. 

Yours sincerely,  

Tavish Scott MSP

Scottish Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson


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