Scots split over role of funding council

April 30, 2004

Speculation is growing that the Scottish Executive could give a merged further and higher education funding council the power to tell universities and colleges what to teach.

Draft legislation to merge the existing Scottish further and higher education funding councils had been expected at Easter.

The delay is thought to be due to controversial planning proposals. The possibility that a new body might have such a role was one of the most controversial areas to emerge in responses to a pre-consultation paper on merger.

Universities Scotland vehemently opposes any planning powers, warning that the role of funding universities and colleges is sufficiently challenging.

"It would be a mistake to burden the new body with additional responsibilities that compromise its ability to concentrate on its key task," it says. "The funding levers available to it are sufficient to enable it to influence planning decisions in institutions."

But the Educational Institute of Scotland wants the new body to have a "developing, planning and funding role", although it says that staff representatives from universities and colleges should be involved in planning.

The National Union of Students Scotland has called on the new body to have greater powers of intervention, to the point of being able to enforce mergers between institutions.

But the Association of University Teachers Scotland believes that the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council already has sufficient powers and wants to see "a funding body that is able to influence the direction of institutions without being prescriptive".

The new body should be able to be intervene to prevent subjects being lost to Scotland when institutions axed courses, the AUTS says. This is particularly vital, given the proposals for top-up fees south of the border, because Scots will be financially penalised by taking courses outside Scotland.

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