Young people at school are provided with experiences and careers advice to raise awareness of a range of available degree opportunities. There are also targeted schools programmes to encourage young people into careers in health and medicine, in particular.
We provide additional funding through the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to universities to help to improve access to the high-demand professions. The reach programme is linked to each medical school in Scotland to support young people from low-progression schools who wish to study medicine.
In March, we announced funding of £330,000 to deliver pre-entry courses to medicine, which will be used to support secondary school students from socially deprived backgrounds to prepare them better for undergraduate medical education.
The Scottish Government announced an increase of 50 medical undergraduate places for this academic session. I understand that there will be another 40 places for academic session 2018-19. Those additional places do not make up for the reductions over the previous 10 years, nor do they match the 25 per cent increase in places south of the border. Given the chronic shortage of general practitioners in Scotland, will the minister tell Parliament what advice she has received from the medical undergraduate group? Is the capping system on Scotland-domiciled places working?
Liz Smith is correct to point to the increase of 50 medical undergraduate places targeted at students from the most-deprived areas. She will also be well aware of the workforce planning requirements that go into the analysis before any decisions on medical places are taken for universities.
I must correct Liz Smith on what she said about there being a cap on Scotland-domiciled university places: there is no cap on those places. Setting the number of medical student places is based on the workforce planning needs of NHS Scotland, which I have mentioned. Although we set the annual intake into medicine, the selection and recruitment of individual students to study medicine is, of course, a matter for individual universities. Indeed, Liz Smith—correctly—points out to me on every occasion that she can that universities are independent organisations, and that it is not for the Government to decide which places are given to students each year.
In reply to Liz Smith, I mentioned the additional 50 medical undergraduate places for the 2016 intake, which universities will use to support the Government’s widening access aims. We also have the pre-entry to medicine programme, which will be used to support secondary school students from socially deprived backgrounds to prepare them better for undergraduate medical education.
The reach programme was established to link with each medical school in Scotland. Through that outreach programme—which is aimed at secondary 4 and 5, and includes schools in Edinburgh and the Lothians where we have low progression into higher education and medical careers—pupils will be given greater insight and be encouraged and offered support in their application process.