The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has underlined its arm's-length approach to a single United Kingdom quality agency by vetoing the transfer of its quality assessment responsibilities to the new agency in January 1997.
John Sizer, SHEFC's chief executive, is a full member of the joint planning group on quality assurance in higher education, but following the group's first report SHEFC says it needs to know more before it decides whether to subscribe to the new system.
It does not intend to make a decision until it feels sure that the new system would uphold what it considers to be key principles of its own quality assessment system. These include taking specific account of the distinctive characteristics of Scottish higher education, providing SHEFC with information on the full range of subjects in the institutions it funds, and trying to improve quality by disseminating good practice.
But SHEFC has not ruled out eventual convergence, giving some slight comfort to the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, which wants to see a single quality assurance system covering the whole of the UK.
Ronald Crawford, secretary of COSHEP, said: "We are not surprised by the line being taken by SHEFC." The committees's response to the joint planning group's report had stressed that it wanted a single system, said Dr Crawford, but had also expressed a number of misgivings, not least that the proposed system did not seem at first sight to present a more economic solution.
SHEFC's first cycle of quality assessments ends in 1997-98, and it could develop its own system in the light of a purely Scottish review. Sir Ronald Miller, a former member of SHEFC and former executive chairman of Dawson International plc, is chairing an 11-member review group set up jointly by SHEFC and COSHEP, which is due to report in September.