One of Scotland's leading champions of widening access has urged the Scottish Government not to rule out the introduction of tuition fees as part of its review of higher education, writes Tariq Tahir. Seamus McDaid, vice-chancellor of the new University of the West of Scotland, which officially came into being this week following the merger of Paisley University and Bell College, said that the Scottish Government's "Future Thinking" review should explore all avenues of funding.
His comments come as Scottish universities digest a financial settlement that will see spending on higher education increase by £30 million over the next three years, £138 million short of what the sector said it needed.
The Scottish National Party has ruled out the reintroduction of tuition fees, which were removed after a review by Andrew Cubie in 2001. Professor Cubie himself has called for a root-and-branch review of the funding mechanism for Scottish higher education, with fees on the agenda.
Professor McDaid, who convened the West of Scotland Wider Access Forum, which launched one of the largest projects in this field, agreed with the need for such a review.
"I'm very, very committed to widening participation. It's socially desirable and economically essential, but we face a challenge in how we get the required global sums into the sector.
"Instinctively, the last thing I want to see is fees, but there is a challenge in finding a funding mechanism that can bring the right global sums into higher education. I want the Government to look at what we want from higher education: what do we need over the next 20 years?
"We should go into this without preconceived ideas of the outcome. We have to be pragmatic," said Professor McDaid.
Fiona Hyslop, Scotland's Education Secretary, last week told Universities Scotland that higher education would be a priority when it came to allocating underspend from departmental budgets.
*A charter aimed at improving the work of Scottish university rectors has been drawn up.
Elected rectors chair the courts at the ancient universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and St Andrews, but the institutions' rectors have drawn up a new charter setting out exactly what is expected of post holders, amid concerns that the role has been devalued by a celebrity obsession.
Past incumbents include actors Richard Wilson of One Foot in the Grave fame and EastEnders hardman Ross Kemp. The latter was asked to resign after facing a vote of no confidence for failing to give a freshers' week speech at Glasgow University two years running.
While voter turnout can be in the thousands for high-profile contests, it drops to hundreds when less well-known candidates stand. In many eyes that, and the emphasis on celebrity candidates, has devalued the office.
Mark Ballard, Edinburgh's rector, said: "This new publication explains the value of the role of rector. Scotland's tradition of the 'democratic intellect' requires that our universities be open and accountable to the wider community and a directly elected chair of the court helps ensure that."