THE SCOTTISH Office has pre-empted consultation on the Garrick report, the Scottish arm of the Dearing inquiry, by rejecting its proposal to reduce the rights of university rectors.
The Garrick committee opposed the student-elected rectors' automatic right to chair the court of Scotland's four ancient universities, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews.
But Scottish education minister Brian Wilson has now announced that the Government has decided not to accept Garrick's recommendation. A Scottish Office spokesman said: "The minister has carefully taken into account all the issues concerning the matter and he was keen to clarify the position at an early stage."
The four rectors, backed by the universities' student presidents, have told Mr Wilson that the Garrick proposal would harm student interests and give no real benefit to the universities. But the institutions say they were not consulted.
"This is yet another recommendation from the Dearing and Garrick committees that has been turned down by Government without consultation," an Edinburgh University spokeswoman said.
Sir Graeme Davies, principal of Glasgow University, said: "While we are pleased that the importance of the post of rector continues to be recognised, we are disappointed that the automatic right to chair the university court remains."
Sir Graeme praised Glasgow's rector, One Foot in the Grave television star Richard Wilson, as having the ability and commitment to be an excellent chair of court.
But he warned: "It must be hoped that future student electorates will continue to make appointments of the same high calibre to this vital post."
Universities have made tentative efforts to reform the rector's role in the past, although they have never managed to act in concert. Earlier this century, rectors tended to be heavyweight political or literary figures, such as Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George, Thomas Carlyle and Sir James Barrie.
But in recent years, students have been more attracted by media and showbiz glitz, electing pop singer Pat Kane and children's entertainer Johnny Ball at Glasgow, football commentator Archie MacPherson and television personality Muriel Gray at Edinburgh, comedy actors John Cleese and Tim Brooke-Taylor at St Andrews, and actor Iain Cuthbertson and journalist Sandy Gall at Aberdeen University.
Rectors have carried out their duties with varying degrees of assiduity, although some, like Richard Wilson, have been highly valued. Edinburgh, for example, rewarded Donnie Munro of the Gaelic rock group Runrig with an honorary degree.