A four-square defence

November 20, 2008

The conference "Intellect and Democracy" held in Edinburgh last month was University and College Union Scotland's contribution to kick-starting a discussion about the future of Scotland's universities, a discussion that the Government and the university principals had been reluctant to initiate.

Universities north of the border face a funding crisis, in part because of the competitive advantage afforded to English institutions by socially regressive top-up fees. The Scottish Government is committed to free access to higher education. How can the funding gap be closed?

UCU Scotland supports free access, but it recognises that the additional public money needed to fund it while maintaining a world-class university system must be accounted for.

Voters have not had the opportunity to participate in a wide-ranging, evidence-led debate about the universities' role in a civilised society since the Robbins report in 1963, which paid particular attention to Scotland.

Encouraging a critical understanding of the Scottish educational myth of the "democratic intellect" can provide a context for such an informed debate. Unfortunately, this message was lost in your report ("Call to abandon four-year degrees", 6 November), which stressed a speech by the UCU's UK president-elect, Alastair Hunter. He speculated, entirely on his own account, that should a three-year first degree replace the much-valued Scottish four-year one, the consequent freeing-up of funds could allow wider access to postgraduate qualifications.

His remarks have alarmed some of our members, and I am grateful for the opportunity to reassure them that this is not the policy of UCU Scotland nor indeed UCU nationally.

Terry Brotherstone, Honorary President, University and College Union Scotland.

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