Maggie Woodrow Memorial Lecture

Maggie Woodrow Memorial Lecture:

Bums on seats and beyond: the critical role of the first year in widening access to higher education

Professor John McKendrick, Commissioner for Fair Access

Scotland has set an ambitious target to ensure that 20% of entrants to university (first degree, full-time, Scottish-domiciled) are from the 20% Most Deprived Areas in Scotland by 2030.  This ‘fair access’ agenda has led to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing higher education and the share of those students increasing among the total student population.  With a entrant population share of 16.5%, more work needs to be done to facilitate access to higher education.  However, the fair access agenda needs to be recalibrated to give equal weight to the experience (and outcomes) of students in higher education.  Scotland loses one-in-ten of its new entrants every year, a proportion that has barely changed over the last decade and means the 5,000 students from the most disadvantaged areas have not progressed to a second year of study.  In this presentation, I reflect on the first year experience, identifying practice that is being introduced, and could be introduced, to address what must be understood as a problem for higher education in Scotland.

About Professor John McKendrick

Professor John McKendrick

Professor John McKendrick is Professor of Social Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University, where he co-directs the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit. He arrived at the university twenty-five years ago, having spent the first four years of his career at the University of Manchester. His work at the university was interrupted with two years on secondment to the University of Edinburgh (2002-2003 at the Centre for Families and Relationships). 

Professor McKendrick was appointed Commissioner for Fair Access in January 2023 by the Scottish Government. The Commissioner is independent of government and responsible for leading a system wide effort to deliver fair access in Scotland, including the development of a framework for fair access. He provides impartial policy advice to the Scottish Government and other organisations and works across the entire education system to:

  • develop best practice
  • improve the evidence base
  • hold to account all those with a role in advancing fair access to higher education

His route to higher education was through Carmyle Primary School (Glasgow), Pennyburn Primary and Kilwinning Academy (North Ayrshire). He studied Geography at the University of Strathclyde, before heading across the city to complete a PhD at the University of Glasgow. Technically, the first in his family to go to university, he prefers to credit that family milestone to his mum who gained a teaching degree as a mature student at Craigie College of Education (now the University of the West of Scotland).

He is on the Child Poverty Programme Board and Scottish Attainment Challenge Programme Board and serves as a committee member on a number of anti-poverty initiatives and organisations. 

Read more about John on the Commissioner for Fair Access (Scotland) website.