Scotland's crumbling campuses face a £430 million repair bill, a report on the strengths of Scottish higher education concludes. Low academic salaries undermining staff morale are also a cause for concern, it says.
But the third phase of the Scottish Executive's higher education review, which should inform the next spending review, fails to put an overall price on maintaining Scotland's competitive edge.
It acknowledges that the main threat to Scotland's competitiveness arises from the higher education bill for England. If passed by Parliament, the bill will significantly boost the income of English universities by allowing them to charge tuition fees of up to £3,000 a year from 2006.
But the review says it is difficult to quantify the knock-on effect of top-up fees on the Scottish budget.
The review flags up issues to be considered, which include: new fellowships to attract international research stars; possible collaboration between universities to boost young academics' career prospects; and a cut in the percentage of researchers on fixed-term contracts.
High-quality facilities are a major pull for junior and senior staff, it says.
The review urges universities to keep doing all they can to find funds to improve buildings. But it concedes there seems to be "limited potential" to increase non-government funding. It also urges ministers to prepare for a potential influx of "fee refugees" seeking to escape top-ups in England.
The third phase of the review, which has been running for two years, may be the last, but the review's steering group plans to meet periodically to monitor progress.
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