Scots dons urged to criticise

October 1, 1999

Scotland's academics need to show greater intellectual courage in questioning the government's educational policy agenda, a Glasgow University expert has warned.

Walter Humes, head of Glasgow's department of education studies, speaking at the inaugural conference of the university's faculty of education, said there were increasingly oppressive quality assurance mechanisms in teaching and research. The language in which policy was discussed conveyed "low trust, tight control", affecting all levels of education from schools to universities.

Control was evident not only in quality assurance, but also funding arrangements. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council was turning into a

policy-making agency by stealth, by earmarking funding for particular projects.

Dr Humes said: "The academic community needs to use its much-vaunted academic freedom to interrogate the policy agenda in a more critical way.

"It needs to be less complicit with government and prepared to research unfashionable but important topics even if there is no money attached to them."

Dr Humes and Tom Bryce, vice-dean of Strathclyde University's faculty of education, recently wrote the first of the universities' "Perspectives on Policy" pamphlets, which aim to help MSPs consider broader issues in policy making.

John Swinney, convener of the Scottish Parliament's new enterprise and lifelong learning committee, told the Glasgow conference that MSPs must be prepared to engage with a much wider audience.

"I see the opportunity to shed light on areas of policy that haven't previously had much attention," he said.

The committee will shortly begin investigating the training offered by further education colleges within an inquiry into the impact of economic development concerns on work-based training.

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