BBC replies to my complaint on misleading viewers on access to Higher Education

index

My initial complaint on May 31 (compact format to enable compliance with word limit):

Complaint Summary: Entrance to HE in Scotland

Full Complaint: 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.’ https://www.ucas.com/sites/default/files/jan-16-deadline-application-rates-report.pdf 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’

BBC Response on June 12th

Reference CAS-4946569-HBKWHG

The data reported came from the Scottish Funding Council – the government body which distributes government money to universities. We correctly reported the figure in the report – a small drop in the number of new university entrants from SIMD 20 backgrounds. We also included this sentence which for some reason was omitted in your version of what we said: “The Scottish Government says the drop reaffirms that it is taking the right action in focussing on widening access.” The figures we used are official and they are not disputed by the Scottish Government or Universities Scotland. The Scottish government’s aim is to have 20% of new university students come from SIMD 20 backgrounds by 2030. These figures show, at best, that no year-on-year progress is being made. The Scottish government used the figures to demonstrate the need for renewed action by universities. We regularly look at the issues surrounding widening access to universities and, when appropriate, we do discuss the important role colleges play in this – in particular how some college courses offer their students “direct routes” into degree courses.

My second complaint

Your response fails to address my key complaint which is that your report did not inform viewers of a fact which is necessary for the full understanding of access to HE in Scotland – that, according to UCAS itself, the Scottish system is characterised by ‘the much larger amount of HE provided in FE colleges, pretty much all at sub-degree level, which is not recruited through UCAS at all’ and that …. ‘it’s the HE provided in colleges which gives Scotland the edge in overall participation rates’. That you do discuss the role played by colleges, at unspecified times/places, is not relevant to my complaint. To fulfil your own charter, you needed to include this contextual information, crucial for understanding the UCAS news, at the same time, in the same report. Not doing so, you left the viewers with a misleading and partial account which does them a disservice and which may be perceived as damaging to the reputation of Scotland and the Scottish Government. That the Scottish government have not disputed your figures is not relevant; this is my complaint as a citizen and licence-payer.

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2 thoughts on “BBC replies to my complaint on misleading viewers on access to Higher Education

  1. Alasdair Macdonald June 13, 2018 / 8:33 pm

    Keep pressing.

    The answer you received is ‘mealy-mouthed’ and partly answering questions you did not raise in your complaint.

    Good reporting seeks to provide the bigger picture.

    Liked by 1 person

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