Scots feathers ruffled by SUfI 'cuckoo' threat

November 5, 1999

Consensus politics has emerged in the Scottish Parliament over the Scottish University for Industry, with the government accepting an opposition amendment for an investigation into what value it adds to existing provision.

Nicol Stephen, deputy minister for enterprise and lifelong learning, said that the Scottish UfI, to be launched next autumn, aims to boost the 400 Scottish learning centres to 1,000. The initiative will be backed by more than Pounds 16 million.

Frank Pignatelli, the former director of education for Strathclyde Regional Council and now chief executive of Scottish Business in the Community, has been appointed chief executive of SUfI.

He is already being lobbied by MSPs over where SUfI will be based, with bids coming from Dumfries, the Borders and Airdrie.

John Swinney of the Scottish National Party, shadow minister for enterprise and lifelong learning, said a key issue to be tackled was the continuing perception that access to education was expensive.

The Scottish Conservatives' education spokesman, Brian Monteith, claimed SUfI had become "almost a subject of derision" for many academics. They saw the creation of a university that used artificial intelligence as a means of teaching as a cuckoo in their nest.

"That would inevitably be a threat to lecturers, who could see their positions replaced by technicians," he said.

Labour MSP Des McNulty, a former academic, said that the SUfI proposals did not fully recognise that considerable skill and money were needed to create high-technology learning material.

He also warned of the "real danger" that SUfI might become a competitor degree-awarding body.

But Mr Stephen said SUfI was a broker rather than providing any training or education itself.

"Work is under way to develop a brand name that will appeal to the public and attract as many people as possible into learning. The name will almost certainly change," he said.

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