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Let’s talk about diversity

Karen introduces SFC’s new blog series about diversity.

Lets talk about diversity

Over the next few months SFC will be curating a series of blogs on the theme of diversity. The series will feature guest writers as well as giving a platform to SFC experts leading our work in this area.

Before we embark on the series I think it’s worth saying something about the Scottish Funding Council’s own role in diversity and how we strive to meet our responsibilities in this area.

Earlier this year we set out our blueprint for transforming the way we work in a new strategic framework. The first of its four core objectives is to “invest in education that is accessible to learners from all backgrounds, gives them a high-quality learning experience, supports them to succeed in their studies, and equips them to flourish in employment, further study and fulfilling lives”. By this we mean that we will use not only our funding but also our influence and leadership to create a fairer and more inclusive Scotland.

We believe that diversity is not a problem to be placed alongside the many challenges that face us at the moment but rather that it is part of the solution. To be successful in the future, Scotland needs the talents and the energy of everyone, with no room for exclusion or exclusivity. So how are we building on this belief to bring about the positive changes we want to make? And how are we making sure that diversity gets the attention it deserves at a time when there are so many competing priorities such as the climate emergency, skills gaps and international competition?

We focus on diversity in the guidance we issue to all colleges and universities in Scotland. The focus is purposefully challenging and that is why we are currently reviewing our equality priorities. It is also why we are working closer than ever with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to explore what steps we can take to reduce the bureaucratic burden on institutions and ensure that our collective efforts are having an effect on persistent inequalities.

SFC’s latest Report on Widening Access looks at how students with protected characteristics are faring in terms of gaining places at college and university and what they are achieving at the end of their studies. It is good to see evidence of good progress towards fairer access, reflecting the hard work of universities and colleges across Scotland. The figures show, for example, that the proportion of disabled students and black and minority ethnic students entering higher education is increasing and that university retention rates for care experienced students are improving. The Commissioner for Fair Access, Sir Peter Scott, has described as “impressive” the whole sector approach adopted by organisations, including the Scottish Funding Council, in working together to meet the challenge.

This is encouraging but I believe there is still much for us to do collectively to create greater diversity in further and higher education. We cannot afford to be complacent.

This is what drives SFC’s annual Scotland’s Fair Access Conference where we bring people together to share good practice but also to question and challenge. It’s also what is behind our diversity blogs. In this series contributors will share their expertise, their experiences, their frustrations and their hopes. Our ambition is that by the end of the series we will have shared new insights into diversity from a whole range of different viewpoints.

I hope you will join in the conversation over the coming months.

Karen Watt, Chief Executive, Scottish Funding Council - 21 Oct 2019