Scots post-92s moot federation

V-cs believe a focused collaboration will enhance research and course options. Olga Wojtas reports

July 17, 2008

Scotland's six post-1992 universities are in talks that could ultimately lead to their banding together to form a single federal university.

The principals of Abertay Dundee, Glasgow Caledonian, Napier and Queen Margaret universities, The Robert Gordon University and the University of the West of Scotland are contemplating a radical collaboration to boost their research and expand the options available to students.

Abertay's principal, Bernard King, said the institutions had "a common history and background in vocational higher education that is close to the educational needs of the professions and the service and manufacturing industries". He said the Scottish Funding Council did not attach adequate importance to the work of the post-92 institutions.

"We all recognise that we have been largely underfunded - the funding system didn't change just because we became universities," he said.

Professor King said the post-92s had been talking about a range of interests, including the fact that it was essential that their mission was recognised in university spending-review submissions.

And this could resurrect 20 year-old proposals from the Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory Committee, which said that there could be better support for what would become the post-92 universities if they collaborated under a federal banner.

"My personal view is that the concept of a national business-facing university for Scotland should be on the table," Professor King said. "There have to be ways in which we can work collaboratively together, such as in HR, organisational development and curriculum development. With modern technology, the best of our programmes could be delivered across institutions."

The principals are clear that they are not establishing themselves as a lobby group along the lines of the 1994 Group south of the border, or the Russell Group, and that they do not want to see the break-up of the national vice-chancellors' umbrella body, Universities Scotland.

But Professor King said: "I've got no doubt that the common interest of the post-92s has to be put in a united way where levers impacting on funding resources and policies have to be pulled."

Anthony Cohen, principal of Queen Margaret University, said: "There have been discussions among the post-92s about how they see themselves contributing very directly to the Scottish economy, social wellbeing and cultural creativity in ways that are consistent with the Government's aspirations, and what they may be able to do more effectively by selective, high-focused collaboration."

The interim report of Scotland's Joint Future Thinking Taskforce on higher education last month promoted collaboration as a cost-effective way of achieving greater efficiency.

"I think if the post-92 principals are talking on behalf of their institutions in this way, this type of co-operative leadership and collaboration would be mainstream in government thinking," Professor King added.

olga.wojtas@tsleducation.com.

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