Scots look into their crystal balls

September 19, 1997

THE DEBATE on the place of higher education under a Scottish parliament begins next week at a conference organised by the Association of University Teachers Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, with the support of The THES.

In the wake of last week's referendum in which Scots voted by 74 per cent for a parliament, and by 63.6 per cent for it to have tax-varying powers, the AUTS is flagging up issues of academic freedom, research funding, and the cross-border flow of students.

More than 12,700 students came to Scotland from elsewhere in the United Kingdom in the last academic year, and the AUTS says it is essential that they do not face any extra financial or other obstacles.

It backs the view of the Garrick committee, Dearing's Scottish arm, that the Scottish Secretary should ensure that any graduate contribution for Scottish qualifications should be equitable with the contributions for similar qualifications gained elsewhere in the UK.

Scottish higher education should be seen as an integral but distinctive part of a UK-wide sector, and continued access to UK research council funds must therefore be guaranteed, the AUTS says. However, it suggests a new Scottish Research Council to coordinate funding from the Scottish Office.

A Scottish research council would strengthen academic freedom by acting as a buffer between universities and Government, alongside a reformed Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, the AUTS says. It praises the council's expertise, but wants a body with planning and funding powers.

A parliament would have immense influence on the sector, but the union says the arm's length relationship should continue, as bringing universities under direct parliamentary control "is a hallmark of totalitarianism".

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