New Scots funding chief to develop 'national team'

April 12, 2002

Roger McClure, the new joint chief executive of the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Councils, confesses to being "a compulsive problem-solver".

He might have become an academic researcher, but when cuts hit his chosen field of Celtic studies, he abandoned his Oxford University postgraduate course for a more marketable qualification. He joined the National Audit Office, took a diploma in public finance and accountancy, and then became a senior manager in public bodies ranging across higher and further education.

Problem-solving in his academic research would have been backward-looking, he said. He found more appeal in developing policy to shape the future, alongside responsibility for implementing it.

Mr McClure does not think Shefc is in urgent need of a problem-solver despite the outcry last year over its proposed reform of teaching funding, which led to the council being savaged by the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee. He said the committee interest in education is healthy and valuable.

"(MSPs) have to vote resources, and they influence the minister. If we can build up greater support for education, that has to be a good thing," he said.

"I think the way forward is for a much closer working relationship between the council and the institutions it funds, and other stakeholders in higher education."

The signs are that Mr McClure will want the council to have a light touch. He emphatically sees institutional autonomy as preferable to central planning. But given Scottish Executive priorities for the sector, such as wider access and knowledge transfer, he is keen for "strategic dialogue" in these areas, to underpin a coherent national approach.

This would involve council staff and groups of institutions jointly addressing issues, with strategies potentially differing between, for example, cities and remote areas.

"It's possible in Scotland to have an approach that is almost peer-group pressure and encourages institutions to adapt their strategic plans to take account of the thinking of the whole team," Mr McClure said.

"It's not just a matter of the funding council saying 'This is what's needed,' and trying to encourage institutions by funding or other means. The overwhelming impression I have here is of a genuine feeling of 'we are playing for Scotland'."

In the short term, Mr McClure sees no compelling reason for a merger between Shefc and Sfefc, given that they deal with specific tasks, such as the financial health of colleges, and research and commercialisation. "If you say it's important to have links between the two sectors, there is a single secretariat, not divided on further-higher education lines, so to identify these links is not a problem."

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