'If we do not make our mark now...'

April 30, 1999

Joan Stringer, principal of Queen Margaret University College and vice-convenor of the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, served on the constitutional steering group on the Scottish Parliament. This is an extract from her recent presentation to the parliamentary university group.

"I believe there is considerable potential for the parliament to develop a different kind of politics from the Westminster model. It is intended that legislation will be subject to a substantial period of pre-legislative development and scrutiny and will be open to full consultation at this stage, allowing the public, members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), and the relevant committee the opportunity to influence the development of policy, not simply to examine its impact after it has been passedI Committees will be able to take advice from external experts and even include non-MSPs as non-voting members or assessors, in order to inform the development and monitoring of policy. While Westminster committees are powerful in their own way, the power of the committees of the Scottish Parliament will be different in nature. The key difference is that the committees will have a role in shaping policy, not just in scrutinising the implementation or the effectiveness of policy 'after the fact'...

A crucial question for higher education institutions and for the parliament and its members will be who represents the higher education sector. The government chose not to accept Garrick's recommendation to establish a Scottish forum for higher education and has indicated that it will instead seek advice from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council 'on the key strategic issues arising for higher education in Scotland and the needs of the Scottish economy, and the implementation of its reforms'I There are issues here about the extent to which it is reasonable to ask the body that funds higher education and has the statutory responsibility for assessing the quality of higher education provision to provide impartial advice to the government or the Scottish executive on the real needs of the higher education sector...

Coshep has a good working relationship with SHEFC (which) in turn recognises Coshep as the body that represents the interests of Scottish higher education institutions. We are keen to continue to work together with the council, but it will also be important for us to ensure that the Scottish Parliament looks to Coshep for advice and views from the sectorI We all have a responsibility, as individuals and as representatives of institutions and interest groups, to develop positive relationships with the parliament, for selfish as well as collective reasons - if we don't make our mark on the parliament now, we might find it very hard to do so in the future."

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