Tension over plan for Scots merger

April 9, 2004

Scotland's further and higher education organisations radically disagree over the powers of a planned merged funding council for the two sectors.

And key tensions have emerged over the possible funding levels for each sector in responses to the Scottish Executive's pre-consultation discussion paper.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) says there should be no difference between funding higher education in further education colleges and in higher education institutions. And the National Union of Students Scotland objects to the current system of funding institutions according to sector. Where courses are comparable, they should receive comparable funding, it says.

But Universities Scotland is alarmed by what it sees as the "unjustified and dangerous assumption" pervading the discussion document: that the two sectors are more alike than is the case. Differences in the funding models for further and higher education are not arbitrary, but stem logically from their different missions, it says.

The pioneering Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework puts higher national diplomas at the same level as the first two years of a university degree. But Universities Scotland says it would be a serious mistake to suppose that all courses at the same SCQF level should get the same funding.

"There is an important difference between the learning experience embodied in the first two years of a degree programme and that of an HND programme, just as the learning experience within a higher education institution is distinct from that within a further education college," it says. "Both are necessary, but they are heterogeneous and any moves towards greater homogeneity will be damaging."

The EIS is calling for the merged body to have a planning role, but this is strongly opposed by Universities Scotland, which says a funding role is sufficiently challenging. The Association of University Teachers Scotland wants the new council to have the power to prevent institutions axing subjects, guarding against disciplines disappearing north of the border because of individual institutions shutting courses.

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