I was flicking through university brochures last week with the son of a friend of mine. He is too young to apply – even exams are a long way off – but he had recently had a visit at school from a careers adviser, who had talked about careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).
The brochures, from a Scottish ancient, clearly set out the requirements for applicants to those courses – the number of Highers and the grades that need to be achieved, as well as equivalent A-level and International Baccalaureate scores. What it did not tell you, however, was whether an applicant would get any credit for higher national qualification courses studied at college.
It was not me who spotted this. My young friend had heard plenty from me over the years about the benefits of a couple of years at college before embarking on that university degree, towards which his background and current school performance are invariably pushing him. “Does that mean they don’t do articulation?” he asked.
“They” do, of course, “do articulation” – the process that allows students with an HNC or an HND to go straight into the second or third year, respectively, of a four-year degree – but they do very little of it.
In April, a report from the Scottish Funding Council showed that just over half of students entering university after achieving a Higher National Certificate or a Higher National Diploma at college gained full credit for those qualifications. Crucially, HNC/HND articulating students accounted for more than a quarter of all students beginning a first degree course at a Scottish university that year (26.1 per cent).
But the reality is that very few of those successful routes will be available at the university my friend was considering: the vast majority are at post-92 universities.
There is no sense of urgency from universities, especially the ancients, to change this any time soon: they are never short of suitable applicants and are unlikely to struggle to fill courses.
Much more importantly, however, the rest of the education sector is still largely failing to create that urgency. Why was my S3 friend the only one in a group of hundreds to raise the idea of attending college en route to becoming an engineer? How many of you teachers have inquired about articulation routes for your students? How many of you have recommended them to the highest achieving and not just those you think may struggle with direct entry to university?
Nothing will change in the way vocational education is viewed or in the value placed on Modern Apprenticeships and 2+2 routes if things don’t change at school level. And, I am afraid, as is so often the case, teachers are absolutely key to this. The next time you and your students are working with the local college or are in a project with the local university, ask it about its articulation routes.
And while we are at it, go and look up the first inductee of the College Hall of Fame – Dr Kirsty Robb. She began her professional journey at Forth Valley College’s Falkirk Campus with an NQ in applied biological studies. Upon leaving college, she then enrolled at the University of Strathclyde on the third year of a degree course in biochemistry and immunology, graduating in 2011 and beginning her PhD on the structural dynamics of bacterial GntR proteins.
She is now a post-doctoral researcher at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, working in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline in the fight against superbugs. She is living proof that there is more than one route to HE success – and the role colleges can play in that.
So come on, teachers, let’s make sure that students know that the college-to-university option is out there – and let’s send a message to universities that a “maybe” on articulation is no longer good enough.
This article originally appeared in the 28 June 2019 issue under the headline “The fact that college leads to uni is a message worth articulating”