Scottish academics want the government to help institutions plan better by giving advance notice of forthcoming budgets.
David Bleiman, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, has written to Scottish secretary Donald Dewar warning that higher education is hampered by the mismatch between the academic and the financial year. In the coming year, the sector faces a 2.75 per cent cut in real terms, rather than the Tories' planned 6 per cent cut, but there are no hard figures for April to July 1999.
Mr Bleiman said the results of the government's comprehensive spending review next summer will come too late for universities to plan properly. Mr Dewar could reduce the difficulties by giving the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council early notice of Scottish Office budget plans for the financial year 1999-2000.
The Dearing report called for a two-year average cut of 1 per cent, implying a 3.25 per cent cash increase in 1999-2000, Mr Bleiman pointed out. "Early notice of the 1999-2000 figures would allow SHEFC to make funding allocations for academic year 1998-99 that reduce the 2.75 per cent real terms cut imposed in financial year 1998-99 by taking into account better figures for the April to June 1999 period."
The Association of University Teachers Scotland also wants to discuss the role of Scottish universities in meeting government commitments to provide places for 500,000 extra students by 2002. "The amber light is on for Scottish higher education," Mr Bleiman said. "We do not know whether to brake or accelerate. Mr Dewar can give us the green light in January to deliver the quality and numbers that the government will be seeking."
The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals said Dearing's vision of a learning society could be achieved only if government and higher education stick to the compact it set out. COSHEP can honour the pact only if extra money is guaranteed by the government's fee strategy.