Call for sub-committee

March 22, 1996

The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals has called for a Scottish subcommittee to be set up, chaired by a full member of the Dearing inquiry.

Scottish bodies have this week been responding to Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland, who called for views on how the distinctiveness of the the education system north of the border could be taken into account.

At least one serving Scottish principal must be on the main committee, COSHEP warns, adding that this does not mean a Scot heading an English university. The main committee should also include a prominent lay member of a Scottish university court or college governing body, who is familiar with the whole structure and organisation of Scottish higher education. Ideally, COSHEP suggests, the lay representative would chair the Scottish subcommittee, which should have a maximum of six members.

Two of the 12-member Robbins committee came from Scotland, supported by a Scottish Office assessor, COSHEP says. It wants a similar level of representation on Dearing, including backing from the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department.

The Association of University Teachers Scotland warns against an entirely separate Scottish committee, saying that Scottish higher education should be seen as an integral but distinctive part of a United Kingdom system. But it says there should be at least two Scottish members on the main committee, one of whom might chair a Scottish advisory committee, to include both Scottish members and main committee members who are not necessarily from Scotland.

The National Union of Students Scotland also backs the idea of a Scottish group mirroring the main inquiry, and says that since any changes in the system are likely to have the greatest impact on students, there should be student members of both bodies.

The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council takes a different line, urging that Dearing's remit be amended to take account of "the distinctive requirements for, as well as features of, higher education in different parts of the UK". This would make a separate Scottish committee unnecessary, SHEFC argues, since bodies such as COSHEP and SHEFC itself could advise the inquiry on Scottish aspects of UK-wide issues, and on specifically Scottish issues.

Several Scottish bodies have doubts about Dearing's terms of reference. There is no harm in the Government spelling out what constraints must be taken into account, says COSHEP, but this could impose a narrowness of vision which inhibits the inquiry.

"To put it another way, there is some reason for concluding that the terms of reference are unnecessarily 'loaded'. The committee should not be so restricted," it says.

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