University’s new principal promises to widen access

University’s new principal promises to widen access
The Times


The incoming head of one of Scotland’s leading universities has promised to take radical action to drive up the number of students it attracts from deprived communities.


Peter Mathieson, who is resigning as president of Hong Kong University and is expected to take over in Edinburgh early next year, admitted that existing efforts to improve diversity had not delivered acceptable results.


Figures for 2015-16 revealed that just 5.2 per cent of new undergraduates at the University of Edinburgh came from the poorest fifth of Scotland, a three-year low for the institution. Only 16.5 per cent of the university’s Scottish students come from the poorest 40 per cent of the country.


In his first UK interview since his appointment was announced, Professor Mathieson said he was the first person in his family to benefit from a university education and was determined that others from similar backgrounds did not limit their aspirations.


He said: “I’m a passionate believer in widening access, and that’s quite largely based on my own experience.


“I really identify with the issues of less privileged parts of society. I often tell people everything good that has happened in my life is a result of education, that I was given opportunities despite my background.


“I think it’s important for a university like Edinburgh to make progress. But at the moment it’s not achieving the results they want.”


Professor Mathieson, who made his name as a specialist in renal medicine, said that the university could seek to expand programmes in which the most promising children in deprived areas were offered tailored support.


Nicola Sturgeon has said that by 2030, 20 per cent of new undergraduates should come from the most deprived fifth of the country’s population. However, the most recent statistics indicated that the proportion was falling, with just 10.4 per cent fitting the criteria across Scotland in 2015-16.


Professor Mathieson, who is taking a substantial pay cut to move to Scotland, also revealed personal reasons for making the switch. He said one of the only memories he had of his Edinburgh-born father, who died when he was seven, was visiting the city’s castle with him as a child.