Liddell wins Pounds 15 million for Scotland from UK pot

November 6, 1998

Scottish education minister Helen Liddell is set to win Pounds 15 million for Scottish higher education from the rest of the United Kingdom in the wake of student support changes.

Mrs Liddell, speaking at the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals' annual forum at Napier University, said comprehensive spending review budgets had been announced before agreements between education departments.

"We import students from elsewhere in the UK and their fees will reduce to Pounds 1,000, so my fellow ministers owe me some money," she said. "I expect to reach an agreement on a transfer from England, Wales and Northern Ireland that will enable me to allocate an additional Pounds 5 million each year for the next three years."

Mrs Liddell said the funds should boost access and the modernisation of teaching and research. She warned institutions against parochialism following the Scottish parliament. "Collaboration can't just be about collaboration within Scotland. The great thing about higher education is it has seen no national boundaries."

Martin Harris, chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said the Scottish parliament could lead to divergence between north and south higher education policies.

But the sector must guard against divergences which could threaten its international reputation. Universities' influence was strongest when speaking with one voice, and a UK perspective was crucial in terms of the research assessment exercise, quality assurance, the Institute of Learning and Teaching and a qualifications framework, he said.

"Scottish higher education has a legacy which is both Scottish and British. We must ensure that we continue to nurture that delicate balance to the benefit of Scotland and the UK as a whole."

Joan Stringer, principal of Queen Margaret College, and a member of the constitutional steering group for the parliament, warned of "planning blight syndrome" in the run-up to the parliament. "There is an assumption that things will change when the parliament is created, and there is little we can or should do in the meantime. It's extremely important that the sector avoids this between now and next May, and is doing its thinking about how it will relate to the parliament, and the opportunities and threats the parliament offers."

Dr Stringer said a "bonfire of the quangos" was expected under the parliament. A forum discussion group on funding upheld the buffer role of Scotland's biggest spending quango, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, but Dr Stringer suggested its function and remit should be re-examined.

Chris Masters, chairman of SHEFC, said Scotland's size gave it an ideal opportunity to collaborate in teaching and research, and SHEFC could help this through its funding policies.

A Scottish further education funding council will be launched shortly, sharing staff and members with SHEFC. Dr Masters said he would support moves to a single tertiary funding council to break down barriers to access and promoting lifelong learning.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy studies at Edinburgh University, feared there was "a certain strand of complacency" at the forum. Many of Scotland's new political activists would have assumptions about university elitism, and remember that until the mid 1980s, many institutions had actively campaigned against setting up a Scottish parliament.

"I think as institutions we have not networked with the people who are about to become the new Scottish political classes," he said.

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