BBC Scotland and STV News attempt to mislead us on Higher Education application rates from ‘poorest areas’ and former mathematics teacher Iain Gray fails to add them up properly for them.


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:

Are the disadvantaged in Scotland actually less likely to enter higher education than the disadvantaged in England? UCAS admit they don’t actually know. I doubt it very much.

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?

3 thoughts on “BBC Scotland and STV News attempt to mislead us on Higher Education application rates from ‘poorest areas’ and former mathematics teacher Iain Gray fails to add them up properly for them.

  1. Alasdair Macdonald February 5, 2018 / 2:16 pm

    Another rapid rebuttal. Well done.

    When I heard the headlines this morning at around 7 am, I googled the UCAS data for 2017, and, as always there were plenty of data for all parts of the UK. The first thing I noticed was that applications had fallen for all parts of the UK, but, Scotland had the smallest decline. I would have thought that this might be a useful contextual piece of information to provide.

    The ‘headline’ story was repeated several times throughout the programme and as predictably as the sunrise, Tokyo Kaye’s phone-in was about ……. yes, you’ve guessed it!

    I emailed prior to the programme making the point about the FE route in Scotland, pointing out the comparative data for the rest of the UK and also highlighting the wealth of data UCAS provides. I had to go out before 9.00am so I did not hear if my email had been read or how the programme evolved.

    I think it was undoubtedly a wilfully selective use of data as anti-SG propaganda.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ludo Thierry February 5, 2018 / 8:01 pm

    Another snippet from beeb Wales site. This reports on various Welsh Councils carrying advertising on their websites as a small income generator. I would normally have doubts about such a scheme but sensible precautions seem to be in place and – it may well have the added beneficial by-product of reducing advertising income for the MSM – I think, on balance, I would commend this action to all the SNP led Councils in Scotland; see below:

    Adverts on council websites raise £34,500 to boost income
    Four councils in Wales have made more than £34,500 by displaying adverts on their websites in a bid to boost income at a time when budgets are being squeezed.
    Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Wrexham and Vale of Glamorgan councils have been displaying ads since 2014.
    Most employ the Council Advertising Network to source advertising sales and they get money for every click through.
    The WLGA said councils were responding to growing financial pressures.
    Wrexham council, which has also used a similar system run by Google on its site since 2012, attracted the biggest revenue with £5,176 in 2014-15, £9,109 in 2016-17 and £14,479 last year.
    Blaenau Gwent has made £1,500 since 2014, Torfaen council has attracted £2,321 in the past two years, while Vale of Glamorgan council made just under £2,000 last year.
    In total, the councils have generated £34,585.
    All adverts are approved by the councils before they run on their websites and some, such as Torfaen, also have space available for local businesses.
    Banned subjects include gambling, cosmetic procedures, alcohol, drugs and supplements, as well as ones promoting bingo and lottery sites.
    Political and religious advertising, ringtones, downloads and weight loss product campaigns are also prohibited.

    PS – saw on holdthefrontpage that Johnston Press are raising the sale price of various of their papers including the Edinburgh Evening News (2p rise). When sales are so precarious raising the cover price is a risky strategy. Interesting to note that the management haven’t dared increase the Hootsmon cover price this time round.

    Liked by 1 person

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