Uncertainty over the English white paper's impact on Scotland has contributed to scuppering moves towards the merger of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon universities.
Last June, the two embarked on a 12-month investigation of the possibility of creating a "new model institution", combining the strengths of the practical, vocational RGU and the traditional, broad-based Aberdeen.
But eight months on, the two principals said that, while several important proposals for collaboration and partnerships emerged, a compelling case for a full merger had not been established. They added that while the impact of the white paper north of the border was still unclear, it creates enough doubt about the future direction of universities to make merger moves problematic.
Bill Stevely, RGU principal, said: "What would be disastrous would be to set up a different kind of institution that fell between stools." Professor Stevely said he was "pretty confident" the Scottish Executive would continue to support a "mixed economy" of institutions. But it would take time to clarify what kind of universities would be supported in England, and this uncertainty made it inappropriate to forge ahead.
The Association of University Teachers branches at both universities said they seriously questioned the white paper's vision of "extreme selectivity" and called on the Scottish Parliament and the executive to reject similar moves. "We think that thriving universities, supported by public funds for both teaching and research, are an economic, social and cultural necessity in every major region of Scotland," the AUT said.
The Aberdeen principal, C. Duncan Rice, said that although the uncertainty made it the wrong time for further analysis of a merger, the two universities had an excellent relationship and would continue working together.