With 150,000 people expected not to get a place at University this year and an ever increasing number of pupils achieving high grades at school, it comes as no surprise that pressure on prospective students is at its highest level. But what is it that is causing this pressure; does it come from the schools, parents or even the Universities themselves? It would be too simple to blame any one of these groups. Other factors such as the economic situation we live in—with high unemployment and cuts to education—mean that the situation for prospective students is very bleak.
Children are pressurised into going to university straight from school but is not necessarily the best route into higher education for all. Children need to be made aware at a younger age that the traditional routes are not the only way to access university. Not everyone is ready at such a young age for the jump to higher education and this can mean that many young people do not reach their full potential, leading to them dropping out. In my own experience I did not do well in secondary education and from the age of 17 moved into full time employment. I came back to education and entered a college course to access University more mature, focussed and knowing what it was I really wanted to do. Now I am at one of the best universities for my field—something I would have not achieved straight from school.
Top universities traditionally do not like to take students from alternative routes, for example college students. Whilst there has some move away from such an approach, there is still an inherent unfairness in the system.
Newer universities have a better record for widening access, so should the ancients be taking lessons from them? It is proven that mature students generally work harder and achieve more than those straight from school. Should these universities, Edinburgh amongst them, be taking this into account? Or does the government need to give them more incentive?
Promoting alternative routes into Higher Education for school children, with top universities changing their attitudes to the non-traditional student, we could see a decrease in drop out rates and provide hope to the hundreds of thousands of students who have been denied places. There is no quick fix or easy answer to this debate but what is certain is that more options need to be opened to people wishing to access Higher Education. No one should be discredited even by the top universities.
Claire Rackley is a law student at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Scottish Executive Committee at NUS Scotland.