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Opinion Piece - Working to widen access, Professor Liz Hancock

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Working to widen access
Writing in the Scotsman, Professor Liz Hancock, Vice-Principal for Academic Development and the Student Experience, discusses the importance of equal access to Higher Education in Scotland.

Education is a passport to the future, transforming lives and creating opportunities for individuals around the world. Closer to home, this ethos of opportunity drives our commitment to creating equal access to higher education in Scotland, no matter of background or circumstance.

Ensuring that all in our society can access the learning and skills they need to succeed - for themselves, their families and for our economy - is at the heart of Scotland’s ambitions for inclusive growth and enhanced productivity.

Indeed, unlocking Scotland’s potential depends upon unleashing the talents of our people, and nurturing this talent into our workforce. Universities, together with colleges, play an important role in this, widening access across the professions and developing the workforce of the future.

Going to university leads to new ways of seeing the world, to new horizons and new ambitions.  It provides individuals with not only the knowledge but the skills, experience and confidence to pursue successful and rewarding careers, contributing to Scotland’s global success.

Robert Gordon University (RGU) has a strong tradition of widening access to study, enabling individuals both here in Scotland and further afield to access a skills rich, professional education. As a result, we know first-hand the transformational impact education – and the opportunities it brings – can make to individuals to change their circumstances.

It is a commitment to excellence in access and the student experience which drives RGU forward as we play our part in fully supporting the Scottish Government’s ambition to ensure that people, whatever their background, have the support to succeed. RGU is proud of the impact it makes - working together with partners such as the Scottish Funding Council - to this agenda.

RGU’s widening access contribution is focused on providing genuine life changing opportunities through inspiring, engaging and supporting in ways that are tailored to the individual.  

Engagement is the driving force behind the university’s approach to promoting inclusion and encouraging participation in higher education. It is the responsibility of the entire university and ensures the most deprived learners are reached and supported effectively through a targeted and sustained programme of advice and guidance.

Through our longstanding relationship with colleges, we are joining up the education and skills landscape - ensuring that learners can continue their journey to degree level without barriers and with our full support. Notably, in 2018, these partnerships saw nearly 400 students transition directly into a course at RGU from college. We are proud of the skills and talents that students who join us from college bring - they enrich our university community and are amongst our most impressive of graduates.

Our collaboration with North East Scotland College (NESCol) is recognised as one of the strongest such partnerships in Scotland and has allowed us to respond to demand for progression pathways and national skills needs where routes are not currently available.  

We are reaching out across our region, to work closely with partners such as a local authorities and schools to build positive relationships with pupils and their parents or carers and to encourage them to think of university as a realistic option. Outreach programmes cover the first year of secondary school through to the final year and activities are planned and delivered jointly with teachers.  

The university also recognises that our admissions processes – the support we offer applicants and the context in which their achievements to date have been secured - have an important role to play in recognising potential to succeed in and benefit from higher education

While much of the emphasis is centred on encouraging uptake of higher education, it is also vital that these learners are supported throughout their studies. Ensuring individuals feel supported as they navigate their studies and grow as individuals is important for us, and as a result the university has a strong performance in student retention. This is underpinned by effective transition support which begins prior to arrival on our campus and extends through to final years of study. The success of this approach is a result of encouraging and supporting our learners to make the very best use of their talents.

All of this work isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile. The goal of ensuring that all of Scotland’s people have access to high quality education should be rightly one we all strive for, and can deliver rich rewards for individuals, the cohesiveness of our society and the productivity of our economy. 

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