BRAINY Scottish prisoners are three times more likely to stick to their studies than the nation’s university students.
Inmates studying at the Open University had a drop-out rate of just 3.6% over the past three years.
But Scottish undergraduates were revealed yesterday to be dropping out of their university courses at a rate of 9.4%, the highest in the UK – and growing.
A total of 137 Scottish prisoners were studying towards degrees between 2009 and 2011, according to figures released by the Open University.
Only five of them dropped out after failing modules over the period.
The top subject choice for Scottish prisoners studying in the past three years was a social science degree, which could consist of modules in criminology alongside economics, geography, and politics.
Other popular subjects prisoners studied were sport and fitness, business studies, environment and health and social care.
The Freedom of Information figures also show that no women prisoners were studying towards a degree in the past three years.
Asked if any prisoners had been caught cheating in exams and plagiarising other students’ work, the Open University said it did not hold a record of this.
The vast majority of prisoners are believed to get their education for free. An Open University spokeswoman said inmates can have a Scottish Funding Council fee waiver to cover the costs of their modules “if they meet the normal financial criteria”.
Limbs-in-the-Loch killer William Beggs is known to be among former students, taking a law degree while he was at Peterhead prison. The prisoner then dished out legal advice to his fellow inmates.
Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland, denied the stats were embarrassing for Scottish students.
He said: “This isn’t embarrassing for students, this is embarrassing for universities.
“Drop-out rates are higher in Scotland than any other part of the UK, and these stats show that if institutions are doing their job right they can give students the right support so they don’t drop out.”
Alex Carter, of charity, Prisoner Advice and Care Trust, said the low drop-out rate for jail scholars was “extremely encouraging” and would benefit society.
“One of the biggest obstacles to reducing re-offending is that ex-offenders often have very poor levels of education and employment skills,” he said.
“The Social Exclusion Unit found in 2002 that half of all prisoners don’t have the skills required by 96% of jobs and only one in five are able to complete a job application form.
“This, of course, makes it difficult for them to engage with society on release.
“This statistic shows the merit in investing in the education of prisoners. Clearly they are willing, and able, to improve their education and skills while in prison. Prisons should be used, wherever possible, as places of rehabilitation and education. This will help prisoners to develop active and useful roles in their communities when they are released. This figure is an extremely encouraging one.”
And Tom Halpin, Chief Executive of Safeguarding Communities – Reducing Offending, said: “The low drop out rate for prisoners studying at degree level demonstrates how positive activities within the prison can and does make a difference. Any activity which improves a person’s chance of finding employment on release is to be welcomed as employment greatly reduces the likelihood of reoffending.”
A spokesman from Scottish Prison Service said applications for courses are rigorously considered before being approved.
He added: “This reflects well on the commitment of those prisoners who commit to a course of study and builds on the positive work SPS and our partners undertake to try and rehabilitate offenders.”