Complaint of Bias regarding reporting of entrance to higher education figures by BBC Scotland


Made this complaint of bias today:

The report, broadcast six times between 6am and 9am:

‘Fewer students from the most deprived parts of Scotland are entering university. Figures from the Scottish Funding Council show there was a 0.2% drop in the number of entrants from the poorest areas last year.’

It’s not inaccurate, in itself. It is, however missing key facts required for informative value, balance and overall accuracy. The figures used for the broadcast were taken from the Scottish Funding Council Report on Widening Access 2016-17, published on 30th May 2018. Easily found, on the same page as the figures used by BBC Scotland (3) we can read this crucial piece of information:

‘Combining the number of entrants to full-time FE and HE courses at college and full-time first-degree courses at university, there were 25,490 total entrants from the most deprived 20%, and 15,635 from the least deprived 20%. This means that those from the most deprived 20% have the highest total number of entrants across these full-time levels of study.

Further reinforcing this as the news worth reporting, we have already seen from UCAS: 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.’

This suggests a headline directly contradictory of the BBC Scotland one, today: ‘More students from the most deprived parts of Scotland are entering Higher Education’

12 thoughts on “Complaint of Bias regarding reporting of entrance to higher education figures by BBC Scotland

  1. Bugger (the Panda) May 31, 2018 / 9:43 am

    That particular misuse of these old statistics has been done before in Holyrood and the MSM .

    Old shite, re-stirred.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. David Braidwood May 31, 2018 / 11:21 am

    What is the email address for complaints. We need to m publicise it.


  3. Alasdair Macdonald May 31, 2018 / 9:53 pm

    When I heard the headline, my thoughts were similar to yours. I thought I heard the ‘drop’ being reported as 2%, but, I must hold my hand up and declare that my aural acuity is not what it was.

    Although the headline was repeated, there was an extended interview with the Education Correspondent, whom I thought gave a pretty nuanced analysis of the situation and referred to the various bodies, such as the universities, who have a role to play. I was reasonably optimistic when I heard this ‘exegesis’ but, I waited in vain for any reference to the FE sector, but, perhaps it was my faulty hearing.

    While HE in Scotland is of genuine international standard, I think that the FE sector has made major strides with regard to the quality and specificity of their courses. FE has always been substantially ignored by the media, by sections of HE and, by a fair number of schools. I think we really need to look at this ‘target’ about HE. Should we recast it to include all tertiary education? Given the range of courses offered in FE, I think that we would have to restrict them to those which are fairly high level courses, which are an end point of education in themselves.

    With the Scottish Candidate Number (SCN) now attaching to all students from the age of 14, it is easy to identify young people who have used FE as a route into FE. The fact that a young person from an area of high SIMD enters HE at age, say 24, rather than 18 is valid evidence to be counted towards the achievement of the target. Now, of course, the people who compile the statistical data know this and do, indeed, include it. The amount of statistical data available for our schools, colleges and university is huge and reflects the multi-factorial complexity of measuring educational ‘outputs’ and forming balanced judgements.

    I have always been an anorak when it comes to statistics of any kind, but with a little bit of coaching most people can be trained to make more balanced judgements rather than jumping on a single datum out of context as the BBC has done here and does regularly. Given that the Education Correspondent was demonstrating a fair degree of insight, one has to ask, who actually decides on what the headline is to be and what point is to be focussed on?


      • Alasdair Macdonald June 1, 2018 / 9:55 am

        I did not see Reporting Scotland as I was cycling across Scotland “from the west side to the east, any day now, any way now ….. sorry, got carried away, there! with the Violence Reduction Unit to promote their activities

        I heard only GMS as I was getting my kit on and having breakfast. The contribution by the education correspondent was done as an interview with Gary Robertson, but it could just as easily have been delivered as an analysis by him. I thought he was attempting to do what a good journalist should do.


  4. stewartb June 3, 2018 / 8:12 pm

    Catching up belatedly with this post, John. I hope you might catch this.

    I’ve been looking closely at HE data sources recently and came upon this which adds, in my view, to the ‘issues’ around making any comparison between ‘raw’ stats for Scottish HE and English HE.

    Source: Hunter Blackburn et al (2016) Access in Scotland: Access to higher education for people from less advantaged backgrounds in Scotland. The Sutton Trust ( )

    “At age 18, those from Scotland from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are now two-thirds more likely than those in England to enter a higher-tariff institution, but much less likely overall to enter any UCAS (i.e. university) institution.“

    And why? In terms, from the above report:

    – higher entry requirements to more universities in Scotland, and the absence of lower tariff university provision outside the college sector in Scotland, may explain why Scottish students accepted through UCAS are far less likely to come from more disadvantaged backgrounds than in England (and Wales). In other words, England has a large ‘low tariff’ university sector which is absent in Scotland.


  5. Jeni October 10, 2018 / 4:37 pm

    Instead of pointing fingers, why not looking for the rudimentary problems and looking for the causes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s