Here are the BBC and STV headlines this morning:
‘University application rates from poorest areas fall’
‘Drop in university applications from deprived students’
They’re not strictly incorrect headlines but they are fundamentally misleading and dishonest in that they and the content which follows fail to point out something very important in informing their audience about Higher Education applications as a whole in Scotland and something which their source, the UCAS UK application rates by the January deadline, 2018 cycle, makes clear as early as on page 3 and then repeats several times throughout the report.
Here’s the cautionary statement on page 3 which they surely saw:
‘In Scotland, there is a substantial component (around one third of young full-time undergraduate study) where admissions are not processed through UCAS (see note at the end of this report). Consequently, for Scotland, this report reflects the trends in applications that are recruited through UCAS and not, as elsewhere in the UK, full-time undergraduate study in general.’
So, around one third of applicants to Higher Education programmes in Scotland are not included in the UCAS figures because they are made directly to local colleges which have articulation arrangements with universities allowing students to progress to degree programmes there after completing years 1 and 2 in the local college. This approach allows students to reduce travel and accommodation costs dramatically and is likely to be particularly appealing to those from the poorest areas. The UCAS report in 2016 seemed to support this idea:
‘The problem is that there is rather less sub-degree HE in the non-Scottish parts of the UK than in Scotland but most of what there is appears to be recruited through UCAS; meanwhile in Scotland there’s a much larger amount of HE provided in FE colleges, pretty much all at sub-degree level, which is not recruited through UCAS at all…. Indeed, it’s the HE provided in colleges which gives Scotland the edge in overall participation rates.’
I covered this issue in more detail, in April 2016 at:
Both BBC and STV gave generous space for the Tory and Labour education representatives to repeat the misleading comments and to miss the UCAS cautionary note. Did they read it? Did they not make it to page 3? Only Iain Gray managed to forget to be careful with his words and ended up telling a straight fib with:
‘We know that young people from the most privileged backgrounds are three times more likely to go to onto higher education than those from the most disadvantaged, and these figures show a complete failure to narrow that gap.’
He should have said ‘university’ and not ‘higher education’ and he might have got off with it but, as it is, it’s not true. He forgot the 33% or so who access Higher Education, via colleges, so it doesn’t add up for the former maths teacher.
This happens every year. It’s not a difficult point. The failure to inform year after year suggests a clear agenda to do so – propaganda, though control?