Scotland's higher education institutions yesterday won a 5 per cent funding increase for the coming year, aimed at helping them maintain their position in the UK and international pecking order.
The £765 million package for teaching and research from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, which amounts to a 2.75 per cent real-terms increase, should go some way to allaying fears that Scotland will be disadvantaged in the wake of the proposals in England's white paper.
Every Scottish institution will get an above-inflation rise, the lowest being 3.6 per cent and the average 4.6 per cent. There is a rise in total cash for teaching of more than 5 per cent. The increase for English and Welsh institutions is 5.4 per cent for next year.
Shefc chief executive Roger McClure said it was the third year of real-terms increases in funding. He said it would help Shefc meet the key priorities of widening access, enhancing teaching and learning quality, and developing knowledge transfer and the research base.
Research funding will rise by 4.4 per cent overall in 2003-04, broadly matching the increases announced south of the border.
Shefc has signalled substantial rises to come, committing itself to boosting formula funding by at least £20 million by 2006. There will be another £30 million for the Science Research Investment Fund, and Shefc will double support for knowledge transfer by dishing out at least £6 million.
The main formula-related research grant will rise by 3.5 per cent next year, but Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt and St Andrews universities will share an extra £1 million to reward 5* research.
Shefc has earmarked £10 million for strategic research development for a second year, to nurture new research to help national strategies for a wide range of Scottish and UK needs.
Scotland already has a 50 per cent higher education participation rate, so growth in student numbers is expected to be modest and to focus on wider access.
Shefc is funding an extra 400 full-time equivalent places, 340 of them in institutions serving Scotland's most socially deprived areas. Fifty places will reward institutions that have won private-sector support for widening-access initiatives.
Shefc has also extended its fee-waiver scheme for part-time students to include those receiving the disability living allowance.