It’s been a long time coming…

First of all this post title isn’t just aimed at the fact I haven’t updated since NUS national conference way back when in march, and believe me PLENTY of things have happened since then! I think I will cover that in a second post as a sort of “wrap up of summer” come September.

This post is directed at the “Shocking” news that Scottish universities aren’t doing enough on “widening access and retention”.

One of the most startling being St.Andrews University which took only 5 students from the poorest backgrounds last year.

NUS Scotland (If you are a regular reader of  my blog posts you should know by now this stands for National Union of Students) has this week published a very large and comprehensive report on the issue of widening access in Scotland.

The full report can be found here: http://www.nus.org.uk/Documents/NUS%20Scotland/Unlocking%20Scotland%27s%20Potential.pdf

The jist of which is there are programs in place to help the most disadvantaged students into Higher education, but nowhere near the scope or as well-funded as they ned to be to start really making a difference.  Looking at programs like LEAPS (Lothian Equal Access Programme for Schools). Which are essentially summer schools that students who meet a certain criteria can go to essentially “top up” if they feel their school grades won’t be enough as well as spend a summer learning useful university skills in their chosen field they want to study because many of them come from families where they are the first to go to university. I am a graduate of this exact program over 3 years ago and wouldn’t be where i am today at university if it wasn’t for that opportunity, so i understand the importance of these programs to students, The problem is they are very small and very competitive to get into and just not putting through the numbers needed to ever see realistic change any time soon. I will proudly be attending this summers LEAPS graduation tomorrow at Napier university as a special guest an NUS representative and will be looking forward to seeing another round of hopeful students move forward on their journey into education.
Secondly it should be noted that universities are not the sole culprits in any finger-pointing towards poor widening access the government has done very little in recent years at tackling the causes of this, they have done wonderful things for people who manage to make it to uni, No fee’s for Scottish students, increased student support to name a few. but these are the symptoms of the cause not the root of it. The blunt fact of the matter is lots of potential talented students are lost long before they ever open a prospectus.

Failures in primary and secondary education leads to drop-outs and the belief people can’t or shouldnt go to university long before they ever get to a prospectus. A career advice service that is inconsistent and inadequate, stuck in Ideals of “perfect careers” that would make most feminists recoil in horror. Thinking back on hearing my career advisor saying to some of the females in my year “well you could always be a hairdresser, or a nursery teacher”. Now please before you jump down my throat and say “whats wrong with those professions?”. Absolutely nothing I am proud to have both of my parents run their own salon and hold HNC’s in Hairdressing. It is the idea that these “professional career advisors” can think of nothing better than such generic career paths based on gender and school grades further than those bland pitiful suggestions of boy= mechanic or doctor and girl = hairdresser or dancer. Is quite disappointing in this day and age.

The fact that in many high schools there is no encouragement to aspire to more. It is not that everyone most go to university, far from it, it is about flexible learner journeys. Its having the chance to go to university. Not the assumption you should drop out at 16 and get a trade because your grades aren’t very good. It’s about changing that belief in people. So no matter what your background they KNOW they can do whatever they want…that’s the dream right? surely? That is how i see it. We as students play a role in creating that aspiration and that drive, education is ironically a key part of that, it’s about going back  into local schools, local primaries and introducing the idea anyone can make it. It’s about educating parents that there are opportunities, support for their kids and that university is just as beneficial as going to get a “real job”. It’s about saying” I walked these halls, I know how you feel, but i went on to university and here I stand now and it was the best decision ever”.

It’s a mindset and societal changes we are talking about, from the ground up. These don’t happen over night and we are a long way off. If we want these changes we need action from the top, universities MUST do more, they must strive to be bastions of learning that reflect our varied society. We need government legislation with real incentive to get universities to shape up.  Widening access agreements that have university buy-in with achievable goals and tailored in a way that truly strives for better. This means more than just students from poor backgrounds, This should tackle the make up of specific courses. Now is the time when we can try to push for more women in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Maths) . As well at looking at the ethnic make up of our universities.

Now is the time, universities are more than ever publicly funded bodies and because of this they have greater accountability and if they wish to continue to use the phrase “A public good” then they must do good. A fairer more equal society is what we strive for.

So “what does this all mean to me?” I hear you ask! “What can I do?”. You can get involved in NUS Scotland’s widening access campaign which launches very soon. If you’re a student on a campus in Scotland go see your students union and ask what involvement they have in their universities “widening access” agreement that is currently in the process of being negotiated with the SFC (Scottish Funding Council).

You can look at getting in touch with your old high school or primary to talk about Your story and your journey and the benefits of further and higher education (That’s something I am doing come september).

You could write a letter to your MSP to support any moves by the Government to really pull their finger out and show them that this is bigger than just students, It’s about a fairer society, Its about families, and it’s about Scotland’s future. We are pioneers on pushing Equality and access Just look at us having no fees for Scottish students and the recent Equal marriage announcement. We as a nation must continue to strive for more and better for everyone, to aim for a society where background matters not in your progression through education and work.

That Iswhy I got involved with NUS and this issue is one I hold particularly close to my heart, I have seen how education can transform someones life, I have seen it in happen for my friends, family and even for myself.

Also on a sidenote (and rather topical might i add) I will be appearing on a BBC 3 show called “free speech” In just a few weeks (August 15th) Talking about Education and Employability on the day of High school exam results. You should totally check it out!

I will try not to be so lazy with updates, but I assure you I will have plenty to blog about in the coming year.

Conor M-G

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~ by conorstrife on July 26, 2012.

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