Sir Stewart Sutherland, principal of Edinburgh University, has called for an investigation into the value of the traditional four-year Scottish degree.
The Garrick committee, the Scottish arm of the Dearing inquiry, questioned the current dominance of the four-year degrees taken by 70 per cent of students in Scottish higher education institutions. It proposed instead greater emphasis on a three-year general degree.
Sir Stewart, speaking to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said it was now incumbent on all institutions to examine the added value of the fourth year, and Edinburgh was about to embark on this. "For us, a key question will be whether the extra year, which provides the outstanding opportunities of studying a subject in depth in a research-led and equipped university, is justified in some, most or all cases," he said.
Sir Stewart said he believed the review was valuable for a large number of Edinburgh's students, and for the needs of many companies. And he warned that the value of the three-year degree lay in the hands of employers and the job advertisements they issued.
In a direct challenge to the government, he said: "Perhaps when the Scottish Office, to take an example at random, starts to recruit students with ordinary degrees to civil service 'fast track' slots, students will take the rhetoric seriously."