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Sir Peter Scott discusses widening access to higher education during UEL guest lecture 

Cass Building

Sir Peter praises UEL's efforts to reach out to mature students  

A leading education expert has praised UEL and other post-92 universities for their efforts to encourage people from non-traditional backgrounds to enter higher education.

Sir Peter Scott, Scotland’s first independent Commissioner for Fair Access to Higher Education, made his comments during a guest lecture at the University of East London’s (UEL) Cass School of Education, Communities, and Social Sciences in March. 

Sir Peter said, “The most important form of disadvantage in terms of access to higher education is the discrimination suffered by potential students from socially deprived areas. The greatest challenge is to tackle deeply rooted, inter-generational and community-based disadvantage. But this doesn’t mean that other forms of disadvantage should be ignored.” 

Sir Peter was vice-chancellor of Kingston University from 1998-2010. Prior to that he was an academic, journalist, and editor of the Times Higher Education from 1976 until 1992.

During his UEL lecture Sir Peter asked whether social mobility is a sufficient benchmark to measure improvement.

He argued that opening up prestigious universities to students from deprived social and economic backgrounds is only half of the issue, and that greater thought is needed to bring prestigious universities closer to those from deprived backgrounds.

He said UEL’s efforts to open up university opportunities to older learners are commendable. 

He said, “It is also important to pay more attention to the needs of adult students who were denied opportunities when they were young and access to higher education was much more restricted and unfair.”

Around 47 per cent of UEL’s student population are classed as mature students. The University’s New beginnings courses, which are aimed at mature learners and those who have been out of education for a prolonged period of time, prepares hundreds of mature learners each year for university-level studies. 

Sir Peter also spoke about the findings of his first report to the Scottish government, ‘Laying the foundations for fair access’, which he delivered in December 2017. 

His report states that the Scottish government's target of having 20 per cent of new entrants to higher education coming from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland by the end of the next decade is among the most ambitious in the world – and is challenging but achievable.