Higher education systems in many parts of the world have struggled to reconcile falling state support with widening access and increasing participation of previously excluded groups. Evidence from the UK higher education system suggests that this tension has led to the re-emergence of a bifurcation of the education system along social class lines. This paper examines widening access in the Scottish higher education sector especially the recent experience of economics degree programmes. It explores the differing experiences of post and pre-1992 universities within the context of Scotland's emerging policy towards post-16 education. Factors affecting demand for subjects like economics and how they might negatively impact on the Scottish government's educational policy objectives are discussed. The broader UK picture gives context and comparison as much of the available information is at the UK level.
A elitism has grown around economics degree programmes in Scotland. Structural changes in the 1960s and the 1990s have helped to widen access but not in economics provision which is restricted to a few pre-1992 universities with none of the post-1992 universities. A similar picture is seen in the rest of the UK. A silent stratification has taken place across three distinct structural boundaries in economics degree programme provision and research activity. The objective of widening access to HE in general has been successful. However, for particular subjects such as economics, access has narrowed. This situation presents policy makers who are serious about pursuing the wider access agenda with a real dilemma.
James Johnston, university of the west of scotland, United Kingdom
Steve Talbot, university of the west of scotland, United Kingdom
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