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Peter Scott, Commissioner for Fair Access on what Scotland’s new Framework for Fair Access means for the sector, and students from our most deprived communities.

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A Framework for Fair AccessThe establishment of Scotland’s Framework for Fair Access is yet another piece of the fair access jig-saw, alongside the development of minimum entry requirements and the work of the National Articulation Forum. The cumulative effect of these varied initiatives is a clear demonstration of Scottish higher education’s commitment to a new deal for young people living in socially deprived communities. It is not an exaggeration to say that a sea-change is taking place, putting Scotland in the lead among the UK nations.

Launched in Edinburgh on May 7 the Framework has two pillars:

To develop an online toolkit, providing an authoritative depository of good practice in the evaluation of the effectiveness of a range of access interventions, including access and bridging programmes, bursaries, in-course support and outreach activities of all kinds;

To build a community of access practitioners (and researchers), by supporting the newly established Scottish Community of Access and Participation Practitioners (SCAPP) whose work will be crucial to the development of the toolkit.

The aim, therefore, is to produce more effective interventions through rigorous and systematic evaluation, and to empower grass-roots practitioners who are at the heart of the drive towards fairer access. The establishment of the Framework was one of the key recommendations made by the Commission on Widening Access. Members of the Commission felt that, while nothing should be done to curb the enthusiasm of those responsible for developing innovative access interventions, a more systematic approach was needed to the evaluation of their effectiveness.

Equally important in my view is that grass-roots practitioners should ‘own’ the Framework, and its toolkit. Not only are they the people who do the heavy lifting in terms of devising new access interventions, but they are best placed to manage the evaluation of these interventions and identify best practice. There is a representative Framework Governance Group, chaired by me as Commissioner for Fair Access. But its role is to facilitate and coordinate not to direct or control. I firmly believe that fair access is succeeding in Scotland because it is as much a bottom-up as a top-down process, despite the (rightful) emphasis on meeting national targets.

The SFC has played a key role. It provided the funding to develop the Framework’s toolkit and to pay for the appointment of a development co-ordinator based at the University of Stirling to support the work of SCAPP. SFC has also played a pivotal role in the establishment of the National Articulation Forum, designed to promote smoother articulation between Higher Nationals (HNs) and degrees, and of the steering and advisory groups on bridging programmes, which are considering the feasibility of developing a national framework for these programmes.

The establishment of the Framework is an important milestone on the road to fair access, and to fulfilling the First Minister’s pledge that by 2030 20% of the places in higher education should be filled by entrants from the 20% most deprived communities in Scotland eradicating the age-old bias towards the socially privileged among students. This historic achievement, a genuinely level playing field, is – almost – within our grasp.

View the Framework’s website.