No uni place after sitting Higher early

Struan McCulloch Image copyright Struan McCulloch
Image caption Struan McCulloch was rejected for the law course at Edinburgh University

A teenager was told he did not get a place on a university course because he sat a Higher a year early.

Struan McCulloch obtained one Higher in S4 and four more in S5 but his application to study law at Edinburgh University was rejected.

The feedback he was given stated that he was at a disadvantage against candidates who obtained five Highers in one go in S5.

Edinburgh University said it would not comment on individual cases.

But it strongly denied that five Highers in one year were always necessary to be offered a place studying law.

One education expert said he was surprised this happened to someone who got a Higher early.

The expert did not want to comment on Mr McCulloch's personal story.

But he said that while he understood why obtaining five Highers in S5 might be part of the selection process for the most-competitive courses, it seemed unfortunate to apparently disadvantage someone who obtained a Higher earlier than normal.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption The Scottish government said university access for students from poorer areas was up by 29% since it came to power

He said: "Perhaps in cases similar to this, five Highers 'by' fifth year rather than five 'in' fifth year would be fairer."

The University of Edinburgh said its commitment to widening access to higher education meant some candidates who had obtained four Highers with grades ABBB were offered places.

Mr McCulloch's experience also highlights how important it is for potential candidates all across Scotland to find out about the likely competitive entry requirements for university courses as early as possible.

At some schools it is exceptional to study for five Highers in S5. If this might be necessary for a particular university course, the best advice is to discuss the matter with the school early.

The story also highlights the risk that efforts to help more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university could inadvertently make it even harder for others to get in.

Mr McCulloch, 18, who is currently in his sixth year at Millburn Academy in Inverness, obtained an A Grade Higher in physical education in S4. He went on to obtain 4 more A Grade Highers, all in academic subjects, in S5.

There were about 25 applicants for every place on the law course available to Scottish and EU applicants whose fees are paid by the Scottish government.

He received a lengthy e-mail offering him feedback on why his application had been unsuccessful.

It included this passage: "During the selection process we review every aspect of the application: the personal statement; the academic reference; the past academic performance; any predicted grades and the context in which these grades were achieved.

"Due to the tight restriction on places it is not possible to make offers to all applicants who achieve the minimum entry qualifications and, in the majority of cases, successful applicants are those who have achieved considerably above the minimum requirement.

"This year, competition for places in Law programmes was exceptionally high and the majority of offers made were unconditional offers to applicants who had already achieved AAAAA in one sitting of SQA Highers. Unfortunately, even though you achieved AAAAA by S5, the fact that you did not take all five Highers in one sitting made your application less competitive than those applicants who had."

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh could not comment on Mr McCulloch's experience but said: "We are committed to admitting the very best students, regardless of social, cultural and educational backgrounds.

"All applications are given careful individual consideration and a holistic decision is made with regard to the individual's academic achievements and potential, taking into account the context and circumstances in which these were achieved.

"Our approach to widening participation and contextual admissions, means that some eligible applicants receive an offer at our minimum entry requirement, which is ABBB at Higher for entry to law.

"However, where applicants are not eligible for a contextual offer at our minimum, due to increasing demand for a limited number of places, unfortunately we have to disappoint some very strong applicants."

Although some might question the relevance of Higher PE to a law degree, there was no suggestion that Mr McCulloch's choice of Higher subjects was a factor in the university's decision. The only prerequisite subject was Higher English.

The Scottish government expects all universities to increase the proportion of students who come from the most deprived postcode areas.

Universities stress they support the government's aim.

However some within universities have warned that unless the total number of places available to students also increases at a similar rate, there is a greater risk of more good applicants like Mr McCulloch who are merely "not disadvantaged" being left disappointed.

Mr McCulloch has since been offered places at other universities.

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