Skip to main content

The Betrayal of a Generation of Poorer Young People at University


Those that soldier on are less likely to get a 2.1 or degree or greater. It doesn’t stop there. They then are less likely to get a professional job.
There is a major problem in access to, and success for, less well-off students aspiring to partake of Higher Education in Scotland. Hidden amongst the statistics and dry reports from Government are stark realities. For many individuals the dream of a better life through higher education is thwarted by a system that favours those with family support and better resources. If families cannot or are not willing to offer support then the less advantaged individual is destined to struggle to get to University. Once there they must endure greater challenges with the likelihood of doing less well than their better off peers.  The statistics prove this beyond doubt.
The Scottish “Commissioner for Fair Access” has released in January a discussion paper that addresses “Retention, Outcomes and Destinations” of students in Universities in Scotland [1].  It is stated that:
"Fair access is not just about ensuring more people from deprived backgrounds enter higher education, it is just as important to ensure that they can maintain their studies and successfully graduate."
This is a fair point as the paper goes onto present stark evidence that students from poorer backgrounds generally do less well at University. Mentioned in passing in the paper is the fact that only 14% of students come from the so called ‘deprived backgrounds’. If they get to university they are then more likely to drop out or get an unclassified degree. Those that soldier on are less likely to get a 2.1 or degree or greater. It doesn’t stop there. They then are less likely to get a professional job.
From Attainment Gap..........
The paper arises from the Annual report of 2017 ‘Laying the Foundations for Fair Access’ [2]. In relation to a students from less well-off families doing less well at university and widening the so called ‘attainment gap’ it states that:
“Attainment gaps are rooted in aspiration gaps, which  in turn reflect, all-too accurately, perceptions of life-chance disparities. For learners from more prosperous homes aspiration is easy; for learners from more deprived backgrounds it is more difficult to generate.           Also care needs to be taken that attainment is not simply measured in terms of too narrowly conceived benchmarks; the optimal learner pathway, in terms of stages and formal achievements, is still determined by reference to traditional middle-class patterns

To Aspiration gap.................
However, it then goes onto describe its own ‘aspiration gap’ arising from its conclusions that prompts the statement:
“The First Minister should set higher education another challenge - to ensure that by 2030 students from SIMD20 areas not only have the same chance of securing places in higher education but also enjoy the same outcomes as students from the most privileged social backgrounds.” 
The reference to “middle class” is provocative in suggesting that the solution is in generating “aspiration” and rectifying “perceptions of life-chance disparities” amongst disadvantage students. This in itself is a view from the ramparts of so called “middle class”.  It is not the solution. 
The government might deploy the problem solving principle of Occam's razor; when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, one should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions. In other words the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Simply, students do less well when they are tired and spend less time studying and working on assignments. Any lecturer with experience in teaching and assessing students can tell you this. This may de due to a  variety of reasons. But it is certain that holding down a part-time job or commuting a great distance from home is the most likely cause amongst students from less well off families.
What is the nature of the evidence that leads to this so called ‘gap in aspiration’?
The paper brings together the current data of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) student data [3] and the Scottish Funding Council Report on Widening Access 2015-16 that emerged in September 2017. The latter is a valuable analysis that contains much more data regarding students from different backgrounds. All students are divided into groupings based upon where they come from and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) [5] associated with that. The report concentrates on how students from the bottom 20% (SDIM20) compare with the rest. It presents data in % terms and only notes in a footnote that only 14% of students come from SIMD20 areas; thus hiding the real extent of the problem. It is acknowledged that this fails to account for the background of individual students and only considers which area they come from. However, SIMD is applied to relatively population groups of several hundred people and is relatively fine grained’ unlike the much larger sized POLAR [4] groupings of 5000 or more used in the rest of the UK. Recently moving from classifying individual students according to their socio-economic grouping to groups, based upon where they are from, to groups based upon address raises a suspicion that this leads to significant proportion of poorer families being hidden from the analysis and the problem being under-reported.
  

[1] Discussion Paper:


[2] Commissioner for Fair Access Annual report 2017. Laying the Foundations for Fair Access https://beta.gov.scot/publications/laying-foundations-fair-access-annual-report-2017-commissioner-fair-access/

[3] Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) student data https://www.hesa.ac.uk/

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Qfqual builds a concrete wall: UPDATED

UPDATE 8th August 2020
Things are moving fast today with severe criticism mounting about Ofqual and SQA, and urgent action is needed. TEFS has laid out ten points that should be considered to reverse out of the crumbling mess. Fairness should replace 'maintaining standards' as the primary objective. The government must cease trying to defend a system that acts as a barrier to the less advantaged.
Since posting yesterday, things have been moving fast. Today the Guardian put the examinations issue in large print on its front page with ‘Nearly 40% of A-level result predictions to be downgraded in England’. This conclusion came about after some great detective work by former medical statistician, Huy Duong, who analysed the data available and reconciled this with the Ofqual announcement that there could have been a 12% inflation in higher grades. It seems that Ofqual have been caught red handed and "Duong’s findings were privately confirmed to the Guardian by exam officials”…

Impact of Coronavirus measures on the working student: The nudge that breaks the camel’s back

The measures taken today by the UK government mean that many small businesses will be forced to close and lay off their workers. With people voluntarily staying away from bars, restaurants and clubs, the impact will be profound. The government will be judged by how it supports people most affected and this will be their legacy. Since the majority employ students as part-time workers, it seems they will be hit especially hard. Add to this the loss of part-time work within universities rapidly shutting down many operations, and the effect will be catastrophic for those in most need. Even PhD students robbed of their pay from casual teaching that they rely upon will be affected. TEFS now calls upon universities and government to step in to help those affected. Emergency hardship funds should be urgently deployed. Having to drop out or fail courses because of lack of support is not an option. Loss of funding and rent arrears will be the ‘straws that break the camel’s back’. The measure of…

Bring back Augar and put students first to offer hope: UPDATE Augar speaks out

UPDATE: Augar Speaks out
Today, Friday 8th May 2020, Philip Augar broke cover and commented on the financial crisis in our universities in the Financial Times. With 'The time is ripe to reform UK university finance' he acknowledged that "Covid-19-related disruption may now mean that such a fee cut would be too destabilising".  He is looking to a new post-COVID-19 world and he must be listened to. The likelihood of the government's response to his report last year diverging far from its recommendations looms.
Augar has offered alternative options for funding Universities in his article for the Financial Times today (8th May 2020). His input is welcome at this time and the government should be bringing him into the fold again. TEFS has argued for a comprehensive review of university finances that goes well beyond simply looking at students and fees with:
"Therefore, a working group involving students (such as NUS), staff (such as UCU) university managements (such…