THE Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has taken the first step towards signing up with the new Quality Assurance Agency, following its own prolonged standoff.
The council has now decided to join in the QAA's pilot projects, and will end its own quality assessment programme when the first full cycle finishes during the summer of 1998.
But in a note of caution, the council said that, in the longer term, it still intends to assess the extent to which the QAA's work allows it to fulfil its statutory responsibilities. It vetoed transferring its quality assessment responsibilities to the QAA at the beginning of this year, arguing that it needed to know more about how the new agency would operate.
The council stood firm against pressure from the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals and the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, which warned of a potential divergence in monitoring standards north and south of the border.
But Dearing's Scottish report from the Garrick committee gave the council a sharp prod, saying that Scottish higher education institutions would be severely disadvantaged, compared to those elsewhere in the country, if they were excluded from contributing to arrangements that might later have an impact on them. The council, the report said, should consider contracting with the QAA "at an early date".
A council spokeswoman said: "We are pleased to be able to contribute to the funding for pilot projects. However, the council is concerned that the processes developed by the agency do fully reflect the distinctiveness of Scottish higher education, and the establishment of a Scottish branch of the agency will help."
Colin Bell, convener of COSHEP's quality assessment forum and vice principal of Edinburgh University, said: "We are delighted. We want to play our part in achieving a workable system which must be less burdensome, more effective, and also really inform students, their parents and employers."
Norman Sharp, head of the QAA's Scottish Office, welcomed the council's announcement and said: "We look forward to working with them."