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Don't Axe P/T Access to Humanities and Social Sciences at Edinburgh!

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Today I heard the awful news that the management at Edinburgh College (formerly Stevenson College) intends to scrap the Access to Humanities and Social Sciences course that they run jointly with the University of Edinburgh as of the end of this academic year. This decision was made without even consulting the teaching and suppport staff, nor the University of Edinburgh it's partner on the course!

This would leave a whole strata of potential university students without a suitable route into degree level education, and as such is a deplorable act in a time of economic hardship, and high unemployment. For many, entering education is the only sensible route out of poverty, and now even those with previously successful careers are finding they need to retrain. Therefore it is imperative that we fight to keep this course going, so that many more students can benefit from the excellent programme that has been provided by Edinburgh College and the University of Edinburgh over the years.


A-level and Scottish Higher's are not at all suited to educating those without recent experience of school life, and do not prepare students for university life. The course that the College are planning to axe so unceremoniously has been a vital link for mature students in particular, with many getting a much needed 'second chance' at education which was not available earlier on in their lives. The scope of the course covers all aspects of learning, from basic study skills to academic reading and well structured assessment via essays and exams. Upon graduating and entering some of the best universities in Scotland and the UK, students are better prepared than their school-leaver counterparts, not to mention the already established support structure that exists between former Access course mates.


Perhaps the most important dimension of this course is that is available Part-Time. As funding for further education has only been available for those attending full-time courses, those with jobs, families and other responsibilities have only been able to make the journey into undergraduate study via a Part-Time programme of education. The cancellation of this course would mean that those wanting to progress into further education from this position will no longer be able to do so. As such anyone wanting to better themselves will have the door slammed in face. Is this really the message an educational organisation like Edinburgh College wants to send the students of the future in this day and age?

As a mature student now studying at the University of Edinburgh, I can honestly say that I would not be a part of such prestigious educational institution had it not been for the superb Access to Humanities and Social Sciences course jointly run by the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College. I am far from alone in this regard, and over the last twenty five years or so many people have had their lives transformed by this excellent course, and it's dedicated team of lecturers and support staff.

The course was originally founded as a response to the very low numbers of students from poorer social backgrounds attending the University of Edinburgh, one of Scotland's oldest educational institutions. For students both past and present, gaining a place on this course has meant an opportunity to progress into university education, and onto the paths of new careers. Many graduates of this course had been deprived of the opportunity for further and higher education in earlier life, or had experienced difficult circumstances that had made previous study impossible to complete. If this course is allowed to be scrapped then future generations of Edinburgh's potential university graduates may never get the chance they deserve.

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Here are some testimonials from previous students of the course:

"The Part-Time Access Course provides a necessary alternative to programmes such as full-time access courses, Credit for Entry and earning new Highers. With it only taking up, at most, two days in a week, it allows people to fit it around a job, family etc. In my case, I was able to maintain full-time employment, working five days a week, whilst attending the access course on my two free days. The facts of my situation were such that giving up on full-time employment to pursue full-time college education would not have been viable. For several years I believed I had no prospects of returning to Higher Education. Had it not been for a colleague mentioning the Part Time Access Course (himself then attending the evening classes of the course, now studying Economics at the University of Glasgow) I likely would still think that the case. Instead, I am contently pursuing my studies and embracing academic life. I am not alone in this. I know many of my classmates on the course last year were in a similar situation. We lacked resources and opportunities, but not ability or enthusiasm. Fundamentally, the Part-Time Access Course offered people like myself a chance, in my case my second and last chance, to prove ourselves capable, to earn a place in Higher Education. Yet, more important than that, it did not ignore the realities of our lives and the situations we found ourselves in. If you believe that, in ending the course, you will be able to direct prospective students to alternative offerings, you misunderstand the motivations for those who chose Part-Time Access. It was not because we lacked commitment, or that we expected "Part-Time" to mean "soft touch". It was, for many of us, necessity. Part-Time Access was our only viable path to Higher Education and, for the overwhelming majority of us, it was a successful one. If I were to defend it on a matter of principle I would say that to scrap the course would be to turn away people who are actively working to improve their lot in life, denying them a potentially life-changing opportunity. If I were to defend it in terms of business, consider this: you have the must-have product. There is nothing else like Part-Time Access on the market. Those students on your waiting list will not be easily convinced of alternatives, if they can be convinced at all. Whether you consider it turning away aspiring individuals, or losing prospective customers, the scrapping of the Part-Time Access Course is at best foolhardy, at worst deplorable. I sincerely hope that you will reconsider your decision."

David is studying (MA) Linguistics and Chinese at the University of Edinburgh.

"As a teenager I didn't have the stability I needed and a period of homelessness made study in further education impossible for me. Since then I have spent nearly twenty years doing menial jobs (very well I might add), but even though I always travelled up the ladder quickly, I was trapped by my lack of qualifications and usually working for people that didn't care to utilise my potential. I'd wanted to return to education but how could I afford to study full-time and pay my bills at the same time? To put it simply I couldn't because the opportunity didn't exist, the world was telling me it was tough, just like as a teen I was told 'tough' by the authorities when I needed to be housed. When I found out about the Part-Time Access course that was co-run by the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College (then Stevenson College) I put a lot of effort into my application, was interviewed and that was it, I was actually on the road to educating myself. My life has changed for the better since that day, I am working towards a goal that means something instead of waiting for the inevitable death of the industry I was working in to ruin me financially, leaving me as a burden on the state. Instead I am now studying at one of the top Universities in the UK and hoping to stay on and do post-graduate research in the future. If this course is binned by a short-sighted and ill-considered decision by the Edinburgh College Management Board because of merger politics it would be more than a shame, it would be a travesty. There will no longer be people with wide experiences going into university education in Edinburgh, just the 17 and 18 year olds whose parents can afford it. Do we want this as our future? I don't."

Aaron is studying (MA) Sociology and Politics at the University of Edinburgh.


"I am deeply shocked and saddened to hear that the Access Course run by Edinburgh College and the University of Edinburgh is facing closure.  This is an immensely important and unique service that should be saved at all costs.  It provides an irreplaceable route to higher education for individuals who have been out of the education system for some time.


Having suffered from serious health problems for a number of years I felt that the idea of higher education, which had always been the plan for my future was no longer an option.  As I had been out of education for some time the routes to university were limited at best.  All the courses were full time and at that point in my recuperation I was not in a position to make that physical or mental commitment.  I was advised by a friend to look at the part time access course (he had completed it a few years earlier and graduated with a degree in English literature from the University of Edinburgh).  This course is unique, not only in its content but its structure and the flexibility it provides.  This course provides a viable route into higher education for people from all walks of life.  The diverse student body was testament to this.  It gives people who would not normally have the opportunity because of family, work, health or other commitments the chance to further themselves.  In an era where the employment market is volatile and jobs are scarce it affords individuals the opportunity to create a more positive and prosperous future. 


From a personal standpoint the part time access course gave me the chance to achieve things that I no longer thought were possible.  The course was academically challenging, but helped build my confidence.  It is unique in the sense that it prepares you for university, not merely in qualifications, but it teaches study skills, academic reading and writing skills and gives an insight into university examinations.  It also provides individuals an invaluable support structure of fellow students at University which is something normally only afforded to those who attend university straight from school.  It is the complete package.  I am currently reading Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, something that would never have been possible without the access course.  I truly hope that the decision to terminate this courser will be seriously reconsidered.  This is an important stepping stone for so many individuals who, for whatever reason need a second chance to attain a higher education.  This course is an amazing asset which is in high demand, with a considerable waiting list for next year.  The immediate and passionate response to the closure of this course from my fellow students is testament to its importance and success.  It is a privilege to have received such outstanding help and support, we want others to have the same opportunities as ourselves."


Sheena is studying (MA) Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh



"The part-time Access Course run jointly by Edinburgh College and the University of Edinburgh has enabled me to gain access to higher education whilst still in employment. Without this opportunity I would have had to leave my job to start a full-time course. Many of the other mature students on my course were in the same situation. Some of them have dependants and leaving their jobs would not have been an option. These are people with great potential, some receiving marks well above their fellow students'. Clearly, they have a lot to offer and deserve the chance to succeed in higher education. Without the part-time option, many may not dare the leap - especially in times where few can afford to quit their job in order to attend a full-time course. 


To me, the Access Course proved invaluable in preparing me for university. The support I received and the knowledge I gained whilst a student there has given me the courage and skills that enabled me to cope with the academic standards of university life. In terms of essay writing, referencing and academic reading I am now at an advantage compared to students that came in through other institutions - thanks to the excellent teaching we received. 


This course is vital to maintain the route that so many of my colleagues and I have taken. We have weighed up the risks and decided to leave the security we had to achieve academic success, are determined to make this risk a risk worth taking and are therefore highly motivated. Most importantly, we bring years of life experience and a mature outlook on the difficulties of academic life. It is thus not only the mature students who benefit from this course, but the universities too."


Stefanie is studying (MA) Psychology at the University of Edinburgh.


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