Plumbing the depths

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It was a day we’d tried to banish from our minds all summer since Ethan sat his last Higher exam on May 18th, but the leaps and bounds down the stairs the morning of SQA exam results day suggested that the news was good.

Ethan, 16, achieved 3As at Higher – English, Maths and Geography – and 2Bs in Biology and Chemistry, and all were delighted.

He worked hard at school in fifth year, but resisted the temptation that some of his peers succumbed to, to study to the exclusion of everything else.

There is absolutely no doubt in the minds of kids at school in East Renfrewshire that fifth year is the most important year of your young life, setting you up for further or higher education, or not, as the case may be. And the pressure is immense.

However, as well as working towards a clutch of good Highers last year, Ethan also managed to train two nights a week and competed at the weekend in athletics competitions – he is top in Scotland for U17 high jump, with a personal best of 1.9m.

He sounds like an all-round bright, hard-working boy, I hear you say.

But it’s not enough to study Marine Biology at one of Scotland’s top universities.

Ethan has had a great love of the ocean since he was little, and has grown up to be a keen surfer and avid watcher of every documentary about the sea that’s ever been made!

So it was with some dismay that he learned that the grades he had – the same as the published minimum entry requirements for Marine Biology in his preferred institution – aren’t going to be good enough.

Further probing revealed that there are fewer and fewer places for Scots students at this institution, and that of the 115 Scots that got accepted to Marine Biology last year, 100 of them had 4As and a B, or better at Higher.

I was further intrigued to read an article in The Telegraph that said that the number of Scots missing out on a university place has doubled in the last decade.

The article said that, The SNP’s free tuition policy is only affordable because ministers impose a cap on the number of places allocated to Scottish and EU students. ‘Universities Scotland’ said the figures showed it is getting “harder and harder” for Scottish applicants to win a place thanks to “strict controls”.

Are we rapidly returning to the days where only very bright Scots (or very affluent Rest of UK and international young people) can attend university? It’s certainly something to think about.

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