Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP has written to the Commissioner for Fair Access Sir Professor Peter Scott over the use of "clumsy" multiple deprivation data as a basis for promoting widening access to universities.
Mr Scott's letter said:
Dear Sir Professor Scott,
I write following reports in The Times that the University of Aberdeen is offering applicants a free year in halls of residence based on data from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).
A spokesperson for the university reportedly confirmed that "nothing else is taken into account for this incentive" - free accommodation worth thousands of pounds. The Scottish Government appears unconcerned.
However, there are people living in poverty in almost every community. There are children and young people from deprived backgrounds in almost every school class. Using SIMD data in isolation utterly fails to recognise this.
Thousands of people will live in the most deprived postcodes according to SIMD despite having a healthy income. Meanwhile, plenty of people live in poverty in more prosperous postcodes. Rural areas area also thought to be less likely to be classified as poor.
A paper from the Commission on Widening Access, published in March 2016, specifically states that "SIMD, as an area based measure, is considered too blunt to identify individual circumstances". That is why there was consensus on the Commission's expert working group on measures, evidence, tracking and targets that a basket of measures to identify deprivation was more appropriate, taking into account other factors such as household income and school environment. It also noted the "strong opinion" among universities that "SIMD is not a sufficient measure to monitor access activity".
This appears to be a clumsy use of data that has real consequences. It would do nothing to help widen access at our universities if people who need help with costs miss out because perks are given to those that don't.
Will you investigate this and any other access schemes that use SIMD data alone?
Thank you in advance for considering this matter and I look forward to your reply.
Tavish Scott MSP
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson