Freedom for the fittest

June 11, 1999

In Scotland, there is a general expectation that higher education will come under the Scottish Parliament's close scrutiny. But many educationists believe this will lead to a greater understanding of the importance of academic freedom and diversity rather than central control.

David Bleiman, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "The Scottish Parliament will make everyone more accountable. Universities may have to explain why they rely so heavily on the use of fixed-term contracts. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council will be accountable to a committee down the road, rather than a distant Public Accounts Com-mittee.

"Politicians will want to meddle. But we can also look for legislation that enhances university governance, such as extending the protection of academic freedom and the election of rectors or chairs of court to the new universities. The increased political visibility of what first minister Donald Dewar referred to as 'our world-class universities' can only be a good thing."

The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals says it is not alarmed by parliamentary scrutiny. "We want to see a two-way flow of information, not instructions between us and the parliament,'' a spokesman said.

But Lindsay Paterson, Edinburgh University's professor of education policy, said some argued that a funding council was an unnecessary expense and that academic freedom could be guaranteed without it.

Institutional autonomy is complex in Scotland as three sectors offer higher education: the old universities, the new universities and further education colleges.

The new universities, Scotland's former central institutions, had been controlled much more directly than the English polytechnics.

"Further education colleges have had a certain kind of managerial autonomy, which is regarded as the worst feature of the new managerialism and in the context of the new Scottish Further Education Funding Council, everyone agrees it has to be reduced,'' Professor Paterson said.

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