Scotland's universities must pool academic and financial resources to remain competitive against wealthier institutions south of the border, the principal of St Andrews University Brian Lang warned this week, writes Olga Wojtas.
Dr Lang said in a graduation address on Tuesday that Scottish higher education had been taken by surprise by the pace of change south of the border. This was to the extent that institutions were having to reassure academics applying for jobs that they would not be disadvantaged by taking a job at a Scottish university.
Dr Lang said that not only were English universities able to bank on extra teaching income from top-up fees after 2006 but also, from this August, top institutions south of the border would get more for research.
Scottish institutions would continue to rely solely on the Scottish Executive for teaching funding and there were also no plans in Scotland to divert further funds to supporting the best research.
Dr Lang said that in the next academic year, the top four English institutions would have more than £300 million in research cash, compared with £90 million for the top four Scottish institutions.
He said: "The difference in spending power is stark. At appointment interviews, we are now routinely, in Scotland, being asked to reassure prospective lecturers and professors that they will not be disadvantaged if they move to a Scottish university."
Dr Lang said it was very unlikely Scottish ministers would be able "to wave a magic wand" and satisfy the needs of higher education alongside those of healthcare, schools and law and order.
He said: "If some Scottish universities are to remain world class, then a likelier outcome is a rather different Scottish universities landscape."
Dr Lang said that if Scottish institutions could not continue to attract the best staff, their research income would suffer, they would fail to attract the best students and their facilities would rapidly deteriorate.
He said that Scottish universities had to consider greater collaboration than at present, with institutions sharing resources to create larger centres of expertise.
"It may mean a clearer recognition that Scottish universities have different kinds of mission, in the sense that some are particularly good at research and are well set up for doing research, while others are particularly well set up for the more vocational forms of training and teaching," Dr Lang said.
St Andrews is planning three new joint research institutes with Dundee University. It is also planning a new collaborative medical education programme with Edinburgh University.