Scots fear Higher Still mishmash

November 4, 1994

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Scottish Office minister for education, said this week that Government plans to reform school-leaving examinations do not assume a change in Scotland's broad-based four-year honours degree.

But a senior academic has warned of fears that exams will be a "pale imitation of A levels", leading to an erosion of degree courses.

Lord James, speaking at a conference on the Government's plans organised by the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals and sponsored by The Times Higher Education Supplement and The Times Educational Supplement Scotland, said the new exams, due to be introduced in 1997/98, sought to maintain the potential for breadth.

Under the Higher Still proposals, academic and vocational courses will merge under a single curriculum and assessment system. Lord James said the majority of students would go into higher education with three or four Higher grade exams.

But there would be a demanding benchmark of two-year Advanced Highers for more able pupils, which he hoped higher education institutions would recognise in terms of exemptions from first-year courses.

Jennifer Carter, convener of the Higher Education Liaison Officers' Association, said that everyone wanted to see breadth preserved partly because school leavers could keep the door open to arts and sciences. The four-year degree also enabled students to rethink pathways, she added.

In MA and BSc courses in her own university, Aberdeen, half the students graduated in subjects they had not mentioned in their application forms. She predicted that "canny Scottish applicants" would in that case be reluctant to take Advanced Highers.

Dr Carter also said there were difficulties in reconciling vocational and academic education. "If the result of Higher Still is going to be a kind of mishmash of modules where candidates take a little bit of this and a little bit of that, one is very worried indeed."

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