An injection of extra government funds is urgently needed more by Scottish further education than higher education, the principal of Aberdeen University has warned.
Duncan Rice, giving the keynote address at the Times Educational Supplement Scotland-Perth College conference, said the two sectors vied for government funds and sponsorship, but the emphasis in future should be on mutual support and complementarity.
"It is more urgent to put money into further education than higher education," Professor Rice said. "Universities have more options, and in a sense are more economically secure than colleges."
But Professor Rice stressed that government could no longer fund institutions at previous levels, and that they must seek alternative sources of funding. Financial independence was essential if tertiary education was to maintain its flexibility and diversity, and enjoy strategic independence.
"There is no reason to expect the taxpayer to give us a degree of freedom in the intellectual goods we produce if we continue to rely solely on the taxpayer, while at the same time complaining bitterly about not getting an adequate subsidy from the public purse."
Professor Rice, former vice-chancellor of New York University, said the greatest lesson of the United States system was that it was economically mixed, accepting public funds which carried public obligations, but retaining a degree of "creative autonomy" through funds from the private sector.
Jim Donaldson, chief inspector of the Further Education Funding Council, said working relationships between further and higher education were quite different north and south of the border. In Scotland, links were based on access and higher education courses provided by the colleges, rather than on franchising or partnerships based on courses validated by universities.
This might reflect the encouragement colleges had received from the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department and former Scottish Vocational Education Council to provide their own higher education, he said.