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Supreme Court president wouldn't have won university place under Sturgeon social engineering policy

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 22/01/2023 Daniel Sanderson
Nicola Sturgeon and Laura Kuenssberg - Jeff Overs/BBC/PA © Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Nicola Sturgeon and Laura Kuenssberg - Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

The head of the UK's highest court would have been rejected from his university law course had controversial social engineering policies designed to meet SNP targets been in place when he was a teenager, The Telegraph can reveal.

Lord Reed of Allermuir graduated from the University of Edinburgh’s renowned law school with a first-class degree in 1978 and went on to have a glittering legal career, becoming president of the Supreme Court in January 2020.

However, fears have been raised that equally brilliant scholars are now being excluded from top courses at Scottish universities as a result of the SNP’s strict cap on places coupled with targets that force institutions to take in more students from poor backgrounds.

The situation is risking a "brain drain" for Scotland, if top middle-class students choose to study at English universities, where it is easier to win places, and make their lives there instead.

Law at Edinburgh effectively closed to non-deprived

For last year’s intake, law at Edinburgh was effectively closed to students unless they had suffered some form of disadvantage or deprivation, for example by attending an underperforming school or coming from a poverty-stricken area.

Lord Reed, who attended George Watson’s College, an Edinburgh private school, and grew up in middle-class suburbs in the south of the Scottish capital, would have been excluded regardless of his potential and legal talent, had the same system been in force when he applied.

Other notable alumni of the University of Edinburgh’s law school, who came from middle-class backgrounds meaning they would not have won a place today, include the privately-educated Lord Carloway, the head of the Scottish judiciary and Lord Hodge, deputy president of the Supreme Court.

The Law Society of Scotland confirmed it is to raise concerns about admissions policies with the university. It said a legal education must be available to “all people” regardless of where they live or went to school.

This year, none of the 555 applicants to law at Edinburgh who were not allocated a “flag” - used by the university to indicate a form of disadvantage - won a place. However, 42 per cent of 387 applicants who were given a “plus flag”, allocated to those who encountered severe or multiple forms of disadvantage, were accepted.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at Edinburgh, claimed that both the university and Scottish society faced being damaged as “future Lord Reeds” would choose to study in England where they would not face the same barriers.

“No high-quality university system can afford not to be giving opportunities to the best students, whatever their background,” Prof Paterson said.

A spokesman for the university said that while it welcomed all applications, it took its commitment to widening access “very seriously” and that “a long-term and sustained effort is required to achieve meaningful social mobility in communities”.

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