Two of Scotland's most innovative institutions are being visited today by the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee as part of its lifelong learning inquiry.
Committee members are making case studies of the UHI Millennium Institute, a high-tech federation of further education colleges and research institutes in the Highlands and Islands, and of the Crichton campus in Dumfries, a joint venture between Glasgow and Paisley universities backed by links with Dumfries and Galloway College.
Committee convenor Alex Neil said that if lifelong learning were properly implemented, it could be to the 21st century what the welfare state was to the 20th century.
But he warned that a strategy for lifelong learning was imperative to allow Scotland to draw on the "huge untapped potential" of its population. Scotland suffered a brain drain like Singapore used to, he said, but Singapore halted it by creating a lifelong learning fund worth billions.
Some universities fear that the committee will seek to boost further education at higher education's expense. Mr Neil said that although the committee wanted to promote social inclusion, it did not want to see any diminution of excellence in higher education.