By Christine Lavelle
STUDENTS in Scotland could be fast-tracked into second year, if they opt to take the new Scottish Baccalaureate qualification.
It is already backed by Mike Russell, education minister, and the procedure could mean big changes for university education in this country.
The University of Edinburgh is the first to announce it will accept the Scottish Baccalaureate as a formal entrance requirement, and students who take the science baccalaureate will be able to skip first year.
Made up of a group of highers, advanced highers and an interdisciplinary project, the Scottish Baccalaureate was an election manifesto pledge made by the SNP government to encourage young people to take sciences and languages to a more advanced level.
Mike Russell said the change will raise questions over the way university entrance can be tailored to meet the needs of all students, and whether the four year degree should be scrapped.
He said: “The four year degree is strength but the question has to be asked: can we be more flexible in how we deliver that model?
“Might the brightest students who have passed the baccalaureate or advanced highers be given the option of entering university at a more advanced level, perhaps at second year?”
But, the move has faced some controversy, after many pupils who originally signed up actually pulled out when they realised the qualification would not help them secure an undergraduate place – with only 139 pupils taking the exam in the first year out of a possible 246 who signed up.
Most of those who completed the baccalaureate took the science version, with just 19 opting for the languages option.
The University of Edinburgh has said it will now consider direct entry to second year of its science and engineering courses for those gaining a ‘strong result’ in the Scottish Science Baccalaureate.
Professor Mary Bownes, a vice principal at Edinburgh Univeristy, said: “The breadth and depth of study required is ideal preparation for higher education, and lends itself particularly well to the Scottish degree.
“The interdisciplinary project not only enables students to develop many of the study skills they need for higher education, but also provides an opportunity to evidence their interest in, and exploration of, a subject they wish to study at university.
“Such evidence is sought by universities like Edinburgh in the admission selection process.
“In recognition of the strengths of the Scottish Baccalaureate, where applicants completing the Baccalaureate in Science have already achieved the breadth and level of study required for first-year entry to related degree programmes in science and engineering.
“This gives suitably qualified students the opportunity to complete their degree in three years rather than four.”
Mr Russell said he hopes to see more universities follow suit and help ensure the new qualification becomes a vital part of Scottish learning.
At the moment, the Scottish Baccalaureate is only available in science and languages, but there are plans to expand it into other subjects – but this will not happen until uptake improves.
It consists of a minimum of two advanced highers and one higher from a particular subject list, as well as a dissertation style project chosen by the pupil.