Scottish Education Minister Mike Russell endorsed a plan to fine universities in the country that do not meet quotas that require the schools to admit more working class students. The Scottish National Party will decide whether or not to instate these "widening access agreements" at their conference this fall.
Using Scotland's freedom of information laws, the National Union of Students (NUS), released some surprising data on class divisions in the country's admission rates. The University of Saint Andrews admitted 13 undergraduates of working class backgrounds out of a total of 7,370 in 2010. NUS Scotland President Robin Parker acknowledged to The Guardian that the report does not cover smaller schools from poorer and more remote areas, but nation-wide numbers suggest that the trend remains consistent in these districts, as well.
Russell did not publically disclose much about the plan's specifics. The older Scottish universities that his plan will affect, such as St. Andrews, Aberdeen and Edinburgh responded far less reticently. Andrews called the imposition of quotas a "political decision" that will undermine admitted students' feeling that they "earned their place" at universities. Aberdeen said it does not support decisions that put any single group of students at an advantage over others. Edinburgh worries about the additional strain that admitting more working class students to the university system will exert on taxpayers.
Liz Smith, the educational spokesperson for the Scottish Tory Party, told The Telegraph that she "wants to see action on access to university" as much as anyone, but advocates a different approach to acheiving it. Rather than chastising universities for the outcome of an unfavorable circumstance, she would rather see that same effort go toward attacking the problem on a more basic level, perhaps by bolstering primary and secondary education programs in working class areas.
The Director of Universities Scotland, Alistair Slim, made an argument similar to Smith's on BBC Radio Scotland. According to Slim, you can tell the difference between children of upper and working class backgrounds' verbal skills as early as five years old. For this reason, it does not make sense to attack educational disparities as they exhibit themselves later in students' lives. Rather, reform efforts should focus on primary and secondary education.