Thousands of high school pupils across Scotland received their exam results on 08 August. Encouragingly, Higher passes exceeded 150,000 for the third consecutive year and the number of Scottish students accepted into university is a record 27,830.
However, perhaps the most noteworthy success is the number of pupils from deprived communities accepted into university. According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the number of students from the 20% most deprived areas – defined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation – has risen to record levels, from 3,470 in 2015 to 4,150 now.
These figures demonstrate the SNP Government's commitment to ensuring that every child with talent and ability has the chance to go to university. The strong exam results were also welcomed by the Scottish Funding Council, responsible for funding our further and higher education institutions. Interim Chief Executive John Kemp said the number of people moving into further education reflects the strength of Scotland's universities.
The positive news surrounding exam results was followed by reports that graduates from Scottish universities are securing better paid jobs than their UK counterparts . The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) – which liaises with graduates after they complete their studies – disclosed that graduates from Scotland earn more than graduates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Interestingly, HESA also commented that nearly 94% of all Scottish higher education graduates were either in employment, in further study, or both.
Scottish universities are working hard to ensure employability skills are embedded throughout students’ time at university. Figures clearly show the high regard Scottish universities and their graduates are held in by employers far and wide. Hardly a surprise, considering six of our universities are in the world's top 150. France, with twelve times Scotland's population has only one!
These developments show the SNP Government is serious about supporting and improving higher education. Indeed, the SNP Government has been unswerving in its commitment to keeping university education free from tuition fees. Unlike in the rest of the UK, there are no upfront costs for tuition, nor backdoor graduate taxes.
Evidence of its commitment to improving educational opportunities can be seen in the SNP Government's formation of the Commission on Widening Access and the pledge to implement all 34 recommendations in its ‘Blueprint for Fairness’ report. These include ambitious targets to improve access, so that by 2030, 20% of students entering university will be from Scotland’s 20% most deprived communities. Nevertheless, the pace of change must quicken. As such, Scottish Ministers made five recommendations, including the appointment of a Commissioner for Fair Access and provision of a full bursary for students with care experience, along with a guaranteed university place.
Tackling inequalities in education is the SNP Government's defining mission. Progress made against the Commission's recommendations shows how serious the SNP Government is about achieving success. This latest news, with regards university admissions for those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, is evidence that whilst there is more to do, the hard work is beginning to pay off.