A review of higher education in England, at the scale of the Augar review, was always going to be of consequence in Scotland.
The review covers many aspects of the sector where there is a UK-wide link either in existence or worth exploring. Though Augar didn’t set out to promote cross-border collaboration, the recommendations, if implemented, could cause some fruitful conversations to happen.
Better student information, advice and guidance
Both the Scottish and English sectors undoubtedly aim to provide prospective students with appropriate student information, advice and guidance. The Augar review recommends that more young people have access to meaningful careers advice and support and engagement with employers and that the careers strategy should be rolled out nationally so that every secondary school is able to be part of a careers hub. This draws similarities to the Skills Development Scotland (SDS) tool My World of Work which aims to have all young people in Scotland registered and using its tools and content to inform their career choices. With such close aims and activity in this area there may be an opportunity for shared learning and alignment. Both countries are also committed to lifelong learning meaning that how people of all ages try to navigate around tertiary education is a growing area of importance.
The review also welcomes the ongoing development of Unistats, which is already a UK-wide information site. In working together on Unistats, it’s clear that there has been more interested in using new metrics, such as TEF and LEO data, as student information in England than there has been in Scotland. This suggests that information, advice and guidance may be differentiating between the two nations; but how different can the information, advice and guidance needs of prospective students be north and south of the border? We must also consider the UK students considering attending university in another UK nation and international students looking at various universities across the UK. Join up in this area would be of benefit so that information, advice and guidance is consistent for these groups.
What do we mean by disadvantaged students?
The same student characteristics; including socio-economic disadvantage, sex and ethnicity, affect participation across UK institutions but access to university is currently measured differently across the UK. Notably, both methods being used are area-based measures: namely POLAR and Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). The Augar review states that individual socio-economic indicators, such as free school meals or household income, are a better measure of an individual’s disadvantage and this has also been argued in Scotland for some time. In 2013, Universities Scotland commissioned a specialist task group to develop a basket of indicators that would measure widening access more effectively than SIMD and, despite the continued commitment to the social policy of addressing communities of disadvantage, the Scottish Government currently has an Access Data Group continuing work in this area.
Performance indicators are produced by HESA across all UK institutions but with separated analysis for Scotland on access. If both countries are developing individual-level measures of deprivation, it seems sensible to align this work, where possible, to allow further comparisons and a better understanding of barriers to access to university.
Better data collection in colleges
The Augar review recommended better data collection, analysis and publication in the college sector. In Scotland, college data is currently collected, analysed in scope of Outcome Agreements and quality assurance, and published by the Scottish Funding Council. There is also an online tool to allow bespoke analysis of the Scottish college data and one of the Scottish Funding Council’s main publications combines the Scottish college and university data to present the full higher education picture.
As with all Augar recommendations, we don’t know how it will pan out; but it makes possible the emergence of UK-wide college data. A HESA-like collection for colleges may not be possible, or the Office for Students might not have responsibility for the collection as the Scottish Funding Council does in Scotland, but in whatever form, overall UK comparisons could add strengths to both sectors and the Scottish sector may have advice to offer on this subject.
This is linked to another of the review’s recommendations on colleges: that further education colleges should be more clearly distinguished from other types of training provider in the further education sector with a protected title. This title would be similar to that conferred on universities and given that the protection of university title has a shared history in the UK, it begs the question whether there would be a similar set up with colleges. University title is awarded on the same criteria across the different devolved nations to ensure comparability and consistency of standards. This would likely be necessary, or at the very least: helpful, for this to be scoped out for the college sector across the UK, particularly if comparison of college data UK-wide were to be possible or desired.
So while in Scotland we continue to be aware of the potential for some of the Augar recommendations to have unintended consequences in Scotland, there are also opportunities to find areas of shared interest, where Scotland could share its expertise, and where join up would bring strength to both sectors.