I was the first in my family to go to university. Growing up in a working class community, this wasn’t something that was very common but was made possible by my mother’s high ambitions for her children and the influence of inspirational teachers.
Thankfully in recent years we’ve made substantial progress towards getting more working class young people to university. In fact, application rates for 18 year olds living in the most deprived areas in Scotland increased to the highest level recorded, with this group being 65 per cent more likely to apply compared to 2006.
Yet I know there is still much more to do if we are to ensure equal access to university for all our young people. That’s why the SNP Scottish Government established a Commission on Widening Access to set out the next steps towards meeting this bold vision.
We’ve already accepted the Commission’s recommended target that, by 2030, students from the 20 per cent most deprived areas make up 20 per cent of people going to university.
As a first step towards this the First Minister has already announced that we will work with universities to ensure that care leavers who meet minimum entry requirements will be guaranteed a place at university and receive a full bursary.
To ensure there is no complacency and that we keep the pressure on for real change we will also appoint a Commissioner for Fair Access. I believe the Commissioner can and will be a real advocate for change across the sector but the Commissioner must also be able to demand action. If the Commissioner finds universities that are not delivering on their commitments then they should be able to recommend that the Scottish Government use the powers we have to impose change on universities.
As Education Secretary I am not prepared to accept that some young people will not have the same opportunity I had to receive a university education. If re-elected, an SNP Scottish Government will take the strong action necessary, as recommended by the Widening Access Commission, to ensure every child can reach their full potential.
Angela Constance is Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning