ALL STUDENTS on four-year Scottish higher education courses should pay a maximum Pounds 3,000 in tuition fees to ensure equity with students in the rest of the United Kingdom, says the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals.
The principals criticise the Garrick committee, Dearing's Scottish arm, for failing to address how the principle of equity in student contributions is to work in practice, and leaving this to the secretary of state for Scotland. They say standardising the aggregate course tuition fees throughout the UK is by far the most equitable way of resolving the issue of the level of Scottish contributions.
The principals recognise that this may be resisted if more English students take four-year courses. "However, a considerable proportion of these are attending 'year zero' or foundation year courses, neither of which, By virtue of our distinctive school system, is in any way comparable with year one of a Scottish four year honours degree," they say.
Coshep argues that Dearing's recommendation that Scottish pupils who enter higher education at 17 should not make a tuition contribution for one of their higher education years becomes unnecessary under its proposals.
It warns that equitable treatment is essential for cross-border flows of students, and that anything undermining this would cause "sudden and most unwelcome perturbations in institutional funding".
Richard Shaw, convener of Coshep, said: "Students are the lifeblood of higher education institutions. We remain very concerned that the specific government proposals for student support will act as a deterrent to access."
The principals support retaining the traditional four-year honours degree on the grounds of student and employer demand, and say that while there may be growing interest in self-standing three-year general degrees, these should not be "indiscriminately promoted throughout the whole sector through the use of funding mechanisms".
They back separate further and higher education funding councils under a single chief executive, but oppose Garrick's recommendation that the higher education council should fund degree courses wherever they are offered, with the further education council funding subdegree work. At present, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council funds only higher education institutions, with the Scottish Office funding further education colleges.
The principals say that institutional diversity and breadth of vocational work are best served by preserving the existing arrangements. The recommended change is "potentially destabilising to those higher education institutions offering a mixed menu of provision," they say.
They see a split between Garrick and Dearing over the future of quality assessment, with Garrick implying that there could be a second Scottish assessment cycle after 1998. Coshep says this would undermine efforts to synchronise quality assurance processes across the UK. Scottish institutions would face an intolerable burden if they had to take part in quality assessment at the same time as a strengthened external examiner system and academic standards monitoring system were being set up.
A split in Coshep emerges in its response on research support, which admits "apparently irreconcilable inter-institutional problems" over selectivity. It concludes that research funds should be provided to underpin teaching.
It condemns as "unhelpful and potentially divisive" Dearing's recommendation that funding councils encourage institutions to make strategic decisions on whether or not to submit departments to the next research assessment exercise.
It adds: "We are most disappointed that Dearing fails to mention that government departments are among the worst offenders in failing to pay realistic indirect costs in relation to the research contracts they award."