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University fails disadvantaged students

This article was originally submitted on the 30th March

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds have been left feeling frustrated and forgotten amidst the university’s pledge to lead on “Scotland’s commitment to widening participation.”

This comes after the university released its 20/21 annual report, outlining its strategy to increase widening participation.

A Widening Participation (WP) student can be identified as: coming from an area with low progression to higher education; first generation students; adult learners; care-experienced students; estranged students; learners with refugee/asylum seeker status; disabled learners; and students from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The annual report only briefly outlines the support it is offering to current students; namely the Peer Mentoring Programme and a scholarship of up to £5,000 a year for care-experienced students.

The report did not mention that the university cut funding to the Access Edinburgh Scholarship by more than half, from a maximum of £8500 a year to only £3000. Meanwhile, the University of Edinburgh made £435 million over the last academic year from tuition fees alone.

These figures emerge at the same time as data from the Higher Education Statistics’ Agency, which shows that whilst approximately 90.2 per cent of students across the UK are state-educated, this figure is only 64.5 per cent at the University of Edinburgh. This makes the University of Edinburgh the third most elite university in the whole of the UK.

The University of St. Andrews is second with 63.1 per cent, and Durham University places first with 61.6 per cent.

Students at the University of Edinburgh ultimately have a more isolated and elitist experience compared to students at other universities in the city.

Other universities in Edinburgh have some of the largest proportion of state-educated students in the UK, with Edinburgh Napier University at 93.8 per cent, Heriot-Watt University at 89.7 per cent, and Queen Margaret University at 97.1 per cent.

In its annual report, the University of Edinburgh stated: “Widening participation and inclusion should be the lens to everything we do.”

In a further statement to The Student, a University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “We take our commitment to widening access very seriously and recognise that a long term and sustained effort is required to achieve meaningful social mobility in communities. 

“More than 80 per cent of our entrants from Scotland consistently come from a state school. Applicants from care-experienced backgrounds have increased by 50 per cent in this admissions cycle and the proportion of students from Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas has almost doubled since 2015. 

“We are in the twentieth year of running our Peer Mentoring Scheme, which will this year see more than 100 new students from disadvantaged backgrounds benefitting from a mentor throughout their studies. Care-experienced and estranged students are offered a mentor through the Edinburgh Cares Staff Mentoring programme, and this relationship is in place throughout their time at university.

“We run numerous projects to support young people in local state schools, including the YourEd schools programme, which helps pupils to enter higher education. We have partnered with IntoUniversity and the University of Glasgow to establish three new education centres – in the Craigmillar area of Edinburgh and the Govan and Maryhill areas of Glasgow. Thousands of young people aged 7 to 18 will benefit from these centres, through access to after-school academic tuition, mentoring and programmes to help them achieve their ambitions.

“In addition, students from across the UK benefit from our commitment to the Stand Alone Pledge and our new Access Edinburgh Scholarship. Estranged and care-experienced students can access scholarships of up to £5,000 per annum, access year-round accommodation and are supported by specialist mentoring teams.” 

The Student spoke to several Widening Participation students about how the university can confront elitism.

One potential solution is for the university’s ‘Dignity and Respect Policy’ to recognise classism as a form of discrimination, providing a clear basis of support for students reporting classism and allowing for perpetrators to be properly held to account.

One student talked about their frustration at the lack of support available:
“I didn’t know that I was a Widening Participation student until I saw it in small-print at the bottom of an email.

“The university paints such an unrealistic picture – I’ve received nothing as a result of being a Widening Participation student.”

Another told The Student:
“They’re taking advantage of Widening Participation students, they’re using us to make themselves look good – it’s all words, no real action.”

If you have been affected by the topics raised in this article, student-led groups such as The 93% Club and Tackling Elitism offer many resources.

Image courtesy of Kim Traynor via Wikimedia Commons

Postscript: This article was updated on the 18th April to include the statement by the University of Edinburgh