Scottish freedom

August 28, 2014

Terry Brotherstone (Letters, 21 August) says that my argument for “no” in the 18 September Scottish referendum (“Visions of independence”, Features, 14 August) did not address the “democratic deficit” in Scottish universities. It didn’t because Scotland doesn’t need independence to sort it out; the current devolved Scottish government can do whatever it likes with higher education. And I looked in vain for a mention of the von Prondzynski review in the White Paper.

But to base future developments on the “historic distinctiveness” of Scottish higher education, as Brotherstone suggests, would be bad for academic freedom. Historically, Scottish universities were seen as emanations of the state, and government intervention was the order of the day, far more so than in England. The 1858 Universities (Scotland) Act gave sweeping powers to government-appointed commissioners over the curriculum and severely diminished the power of academics in management. They haven’t got it back yet.

Hugh Pennington
Emeritus professor of bacteriology
University of Aberdeen

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