The decisions they face

May 9, 1997

THES reporters examine the higher and further education issues facing the new ministers

DEVOLUTION

Henry McLeish is Scottish Office minister for home affairs and devolution, responsible for steering the party's policy for a Scottish parliament, writes Olga Wojtas.

This autumn's referendum will doubtless support constitutional change, but it is not yet clear how closely Labour will follow the blueprint set out by the Scottish Constitutional Convention. This calls for almost half of the parliament's seats to be filled through a proportional representation system. It also wants to see outside groups having access to parliamentary committees which can initiate legislation. This could mean a higher education committee as well as an education committee. Academics are pressing for a Scottish higher education funding council to continue as a buffer between institutions and parliament.

Wales is also facing a home rule referendum, but educationists remain uncertain over the potential impact on the tertiary sector.

The prospect of a devolved administration for Northern Ireland is several years off, dependent on agreement between the province's politicians, and support from the Commons and the local population. Paradoxically, the province seems set, in the shorter term, to move closer to the model of tertiary education elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Labour will not alter Tory plans to shift the funding of the 17 further education colleges from the education and library boards to the Department of Education for Northern Ireland. Labour will also tackle the anomaly of Northern Ireland having only a higher education advisory council, rather than a funding council. There are hopes that Ulster University's plans for the Springvale peaceline campus for north and west Belfast may live again. Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, promised in January that the project would be reviewed.

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