Edinburgh city, Scotland. Image credit: Thinkstock

Opinion: OU nation director on Scottish Parliamentary election

Susan Stewart, Director of the Open University in ScotlandFrom the OU in Scotland...

The second opinion piece in our series of three from OU nation directors sees The Open University in Scotland's Susan Stewart sharing her views on next week’s Scottish Parliamentary elections (May 5th) while taking stock of education policy in Scotland...

With all of the party manifestos published and the Scottish Parliamentary election looming next week, now seems like a good time to take stock of education policy in Scotland. The interesting thing is that actually much is held in common across the political sphere. When it comes to how we think about education in Scotland, there’s arguably more that unites than divides us.

That widespread access to quality higher education is essential to social justice and economic wellbeing is probably the nearest thing we have to a universal truth in our politics. And so it’s in that context that we wait to see if or how the recommendations of the Commission for Widening Access will be implemented.

Fairer outcomes for students

That, of course, will be a decision for the next Scottish Government to make. But here at The OU, we welcome the Commission’s recommendation that a Commissioner for Fair Access should help to develop and guide a national approach to wider access – both suggestions we made to the Commission. Tackling access on a Scotland-wide basis has the potential to lead to greater collaboration, the sharing of good practice, more comprehensive provision and – most importantly – better and fairer outcomes for students.

Open University in Scotland offices in Edinburgh

Open University in Scotland offices in Edinburgh

However, the recommendations of the Commission can only be the first stage of a more holistic process. Its remit limited it to consideration of the transition between school and university, but we cannot widen access with only a narrow focus on school leavers. The Commission’s report acknowledged that part-time study and other non-traditional routes should be looked at in the future and so, to be truly inclusive and reach potential students with more complicated circumstances, any national access framework will have to take a significantly broader view.

Collaborating with schools

That whole-system approach makes sense for other aspects of education, too – take attainment in our schools, the subject of much political debate just now. Universities (and colleges) have much to offer school pupils, not least to make post-school education seem a little less daunting for those who might not have a family tradition of going to university; our Young Applicants in Schools Scheme, which sees over 1,000 S6 pupils across more than 140 Scottish secondary schools undertaking degree-level study, is just one example of successful school-university collaboration.

It is that sense of collaboration, I think, which will be central to efforts to make Scottish education – at all levels – even better in the next Parliamentary term. Whether it is school attainment, efficient (but flexible) learner journeys, transition from college to university, getting more women into science and engineering or developing the employability and entrepreneurial spirit of our graduates, partnership is the key.

Scottish education has many strengths, not least its diversity, and I hope that the next Scottish Government and Parliament will take full advantage of that.