Learning to collaborate to innovate

July 10, 1998

The government has sanctioned one anomaly in its refusal to fund a fourth year at Scottish universities for non-Scottish students. But, asks Olga Wojtas, how different is higher education north of the border?

Lord Dearing recently ascribed Scotland's success in collaboration to the "personal trust that can be established when all the participants can gather round one table".

This is undoubtedly true, but institutions have also had a firm prod from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. The trend arguably began with the Metropolitan Area Networks, advanced high-speed computer links that connect all SHEFC institutions. SHEFC backed this with an initiative to stimulate ideas on how the MANs could be used for collaborative teaching and research.

"The pendulum is swinging from competition in Scotland to collaboration for Scotland," says SHEFC chief executive John Sizer.

Ronald Crawford, secretary of the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, says: "I genuinely believe it is both regionally and nationally easier in Scotland for there to be bottom-up inter-institutional collaboration.

"But it is a very interesting point whether or not the funding council is able to promote institutional collaboration on other than resource grounds."

Dr Crawford speculates that the Scottish Parliament may want to enact further strategic change.

"I can understand some institutions finding that prospect unwelcome because the borderline between proactive concern and interference may be a source of tension."

But David Bleiman of the Association of University Teachers sees the possibility of more steering from SHEFC.

"The policies of the previous government entrenched competition to such an extent that the ship can't be turned overnight, and there remain strong competitive pressures from the research assessment exercise," he says.

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