Scottish universities have welcomed an unexpected boost in funding for higher education in the draft budget for the next academic year.
The draft Scottish Budget Bill for 2010-11, the third year of its spending review period, was unveiled last week by John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance.
The budget contained an additional £35 million in funding for universities, a 3.6 per cent increase on the previous year.
Universities Scotland, which represents the sector, said this was a 1.5 per cent real-terms increase compared with a 0.9 per cent drop across all sectors.
The group had predicted a funding freeze for universities, and had already planned for a "worst-case scenario" of a 5 per cent cut next year.
"This is a good day for us," said Robin McAlpine, the public affairs manager at Universities Scotland. "This budget puts universities right at the heart of the Scottish Government's economic-recovery strategy.
"Universities will respond by delivering real impact with this investment. The message that is being sent out is support for the university sector."
He said it demonstrated that Scotland was willing to invest in higher education, while funding stalled in England.
"It does mean that if you compare attitudes to higher education across the border, we're feeling loved," he said.
"It's going to be a tough year for everyone, but it's going to be significantly less tough than we thought."
Tony Axon, spokesman for the University and College Union Scotland, said: "The Government has listened to our and others' arguments for funding higher education in times of recession and has found extra funding that will contribute to the growth of Scotland's economy, society and knowledge.
"The Scottish Government has proved that investment in higher education can be achieved without tuition fees, and has gone some way to addressing the poor settlement initially announced in the last spending review."