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Building a Fair Access Framework: Hitting the nail on the head
The Scottish Government has unveiled its Fair Access Framework via the Scottish Funding Council this week. Their commissioned research has led to a 'Toolkit' that ‘hits the nail on the head’ with regard to the need for financial support for disadvantaged students. Hopefully it will hammer home the message to government where others have failed.
The delegates were welcomed by the Principal of Edinburgh University and heard the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead say that “Scotland is ahead of the curve in delivering equality of access”. Despite this boast, it seems that much more is still to be done. It is a big curve and, for the time being, Scotland just holds the inside track.
What the framework is adding to the wider task.
Two main things were announced. Both arise from the findings within the ‘Blueprint for Fairness: The Final Report of The Commission on Widening Access’ released just over three years ago in March 2016. The plan is to form a network or community of those seeking to improve access and participation and then provide them with a ready-made resource to help in backing up the plans that they formulate. Both are worthy things to do and hopefully there will be a take up of the actions described in priority order.
A Toolkit approach.
The framework is laid out well in a dedicated Fair Access www site that calls on those interested to join Scotland’s Community of Access and Participation Practitioners (SCAPP). If successful, this will bring together a wide range of academics and managers. To aid in their deliberations, there is an online Toolkit that was developed by CFE Research with Claire Crawford, an economist from Birmingham University and Colin McCaig, Professor in Higher Education Policy at Sheffield Hallam University. The Toolkit is a series of links from overviews of known ‘interventions’ that could be deployed. Each intervention links to a comprehensive literature and evidence base. Thus, anyone can readily divert their research into the literature through accessing the toolkit. Its value will be in preparing cases for appropriate actions within their institutions. The hope is that it will be updated over time and lead to strengthening of its implicit advice about what will work best.
Spending more money is the most effective approach.
The toolkit uses drop-down boxes to explore and assess various interventions for those at risk of withdrawal, care experienced, disability, ethnicity, first generation, mature, socioeconomic, underperforming and underrepresented. There is no specific category for those affected by financial problems and part-time jobs. However, this is implied under socioeconomic factors. The interventions assessed include financial support, mentoring, advice through to summer schools amongst others.
The figure here gives a flavour of what the user is presented with.
Two things emerge as one works through the various permutations when uncovering the matrix. First is that financial support trumps all other interventions. The use of Bursaries, Scholarships and Grants is described as “very high cost” alongside “extensive evidence which suggests it may have a positive impact.” This may seem very obvious to a capable student with job commitments and little money who wants more time to devote to studies. However, it needs to be said and the Toolkit provides the ammunition. It may turn out to be more of a metaphorical ‘weapon’ than a tool.
Second is that the advice and information is based upon evidence from wider afield than the UK; especially the USA. It is therefore clear that the Toolkit can easily form part of the armoury available across the whole of the UK. It will add to the pressure to provide more financial help to the affected groups of students all over the UK. Hopefully it will hammer home the message to government where others have failed.
Mike Larkin, retired from Queen's University Belfast after 37 years teaching Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics.
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 ex
This week confirmed beyond any doubt that Ofqual is pointing the finger of blame for the public examinations chaos this summer firmly at the government and its ministers. The positions of Schools Minister, Nick Gibb and Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson must be on the line. When Williamson is confronted by the Education Committee next week, like Momus he may find his mask has slipped and cannot lay blame anywhere else. He might be meeting his Nemesis and find he is expelled from his lofty position. Called to account. On Wednesday morning, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Education Permanent Secretary, Susan Acland-Hood, and Director for Qualifications, Michelle Dyson, will be called to account by the Education Committee. With the redoubtable Robert Halfon in the chair, they will face a hard time. This is because Halfon and his colleagues will be armed with more documentary evidence from Ofqual and others that look bad for both ministers. All of the correspo
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) universi