4.49 In considering how our qualifications framework might become meaningful and real, we have considered at some length the interface with further education institutions and particularly with schools. We believe that advice and guidance about subject choices at school-level will become even more important in future and school careers' guidance staff should ensure that school students and their parents are familiar with the options for progression through the qualifications framework from an early age.

School route
The introduction of the Higher Still reforms will have a strong impact on the future interface between schools and higher education. We have noted that 'it has to be recognised that the Higher Still programme was not merely a revised system of awards and qualifications but a curriculum design which will influence the provision by the higher education sector'.45

4.51 We believe that the future introduction of the Higher Still reforms may have two significant effects on higher education. First, it may herald an increase in student numbers by establishing an intermediary stepping stone to the Higher. As a result it is likely that Higher Still will, as intended, lead to more students qualifying for higher education entry, particularly into HNC and HND level programmes. A significant proportion of these students will choose to continue to develop their potential by progressing even further through the system.

4.52 Secondly, Higher Still may also in future have an impact on the curriculum and structure of higher education provision in Scotland. Although it is an unknown entity at the moment, we have noted that the architects of the Higher Still reforms do not intend that the Advanced Higher should be analogous or equivalent to the A level. However, the components of the education system in Scotland are intricately linked and we believe that where the subjects studied are relevant, the new Advanced Highers, aimed at providing for higher achievement, are liable to overlap to some extent with the first year of the higher education curriculum.

4.53 It is anticipated that approximately 10 per cent of the Fifth and Sixth Year (S5/S6) school population, or 20-25 per cent of the population currently entering higher education, will seek to attain two or three Advanced Highers when they are introduced.46 In considering the potential impact of Higher Still on higher education, we have noted that the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals (COSHEP) has agreed in principle to recognise the Advanced Higher for entry purposes, where it aligns with the intended subjects of study, and is encouraging students to study for the qualification. We have also noted COSHEP's statement that 'Highers will continue to be used as the standard qualification for defining the basis of entry into higher education in Scotland'.47

4.54 We acknowledge the fact that the Higher will continue to be a major route to higher education. However, in the context of the implications for Scottish students of our recommendations about funding, and the reservations we have expressed below about the use of the Sixth Year (S6), we believe that the Scottish higher education system will need to adapt to take meaningful account of the possibly substantial minority of students who will choose to enter the higher education framework, through the Advanced Higher route.

4.55 With an increasing financial burden, many students will expect to be offered the opportunity to earn advanced standing. We agree with the Scottish Consultative Committee on the Curriculum (SCCC): 'it may be, of course, that a combination of economic pressure (from students and from Government) will combine with the pressures arising from a review of the educational purposes and nature of the undergraduate experience to alter these parameters'.48

Looking ten years into the future, therefore, we believe that the Advanced Higher curriculum is likely to have an impact on higher education and should count in part for meaningful credit in terms of entrance to some programmes. As with current articulation arrangements with the HNC and HND, accumulated credit might not always be an appropriate 'fit' with the chosen programme or level of study and this will be taken into account by institutions. Partial credit, ie credit amounting to less than one whole year of study, for appropriate Advanced Highers (or A levels) is likely to be common and the system will need to adapt to accommodate this situation. It might still allow for entry into second year either following successful completion of a summer bridging programme or additional study in second year/level H2. This will, however, require the immediate active co-operation of higher education institutions which is not yet assured and thus the Advanced Higher is portrayed ambiguously in Chart 4.2, our proposed qualifications framework.

4.57 The choices made by students in the early years of secondary school will become even more important and they will need to be supported to become more aware of the implications of those choices through familiarity with the routes available on the qualifications framework.

A Levels
Only approximately 10 per cent of entrants with A levels to Scottish higher education institutions are admitted into the second year/level H2 of study.49 We consider this to be a matter of choice for individual students and institutions although it is clear that there will be an impact on costs of an extra year of higher education if students are offered, and refuse, direct entry to second year/level H2.

4.59 The A level curriculum is well-established and understood. Scottish higher education institutions should, therefore, act immediately to consider how advanced standing can be achieved in more cases. We consider this action to be important to maintain the culturally and economically important cross-border flow of students to Scotland from other parts of the UK. On the other hand, evidence suggests there are clear benefits to students of an A level education followed by a full four years of study leading to an honours degree and we believe that many students may still wish to follow this route.

The sixth year
School arrangements are beyond our remit but we wish to note our firm agreement with other commentators, from the Howie Committee to the Scottish Consultative Committee on the Curriculum (SCCC), that in many cases the current arrangements for the Scottish Sixth Year (S6) do not provide students with clear objectives and, compared to the arrangements in the rest of the UK, do not appear to provide value for money. We have concluded that more needs to be done to ensure that those remaining for studies in S6 have a purposeful and rewarding experience.

4.61 The providers of higher education must become more and fully involved with other interested parties in order to achieve agreement about curriculum boundaries and fit. Higher education institutions must also undertake to provide clear guidance to students at strategic and local level about how the new qualifications will impact upon higher education entry requirements and fit within the qualifications framework.

Recommendation 5
We recommend to the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, the Association of Scottish Colleges, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the Scottish Advisory Committee on Credit and Access, The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department, the Association of Directors of Education, school headteachers and other interested parties that they should give urgent attention and consideration to achieving better value for money from the Scottish Sixth Year by:

  • evolving a meaningful and credit-rated curriculum for the Advanced Higher; and
  • evolving a meaningful curriculum for non-Advanced Higher students

so that both can be fitted meaningfully and usefully into the framework of qualifications.

Recommendation 6
We recommend to higher education providers that they should clearly specify their requirements for combinations of A levels which will lead to entry with advanced standing within the new qualifications framework.

Further education route
Earlier we have welcomed the existing good access and articulation arrangements between programmes of higher education at further education colleges and higher education institutions. Progression from HNCs and HNDs into programmes in higher education institutions should be as smooth as possible for reasons of both equity and cost-effectiveness. From evidence we have considered, however, we believe more could and should be done to ensure better fit.50 We also believe that institutions of further and higher education should make information about progression pathways more explicitly available to students and prospective students. This might most effectively be achieved by local consortia of institutions working together to enhance opportunities for entry and progression.

Recommendation 7
We recommend to further education colleges and higher education institutions that they should actively collaborate to enhance and publicise access and articulation routes into degree programmes for students at further education colleges.

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