DEARING'S Scottish committee, chaired by industrialist Sir Ron Garrick, stresses the distinctiveness of Scottish higher education while firmly retaining it within the United Kingdom system.
It has produced its own framework for future higher education qualifications, using the well-established Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme as the template (Rec 1).
It urges institutions to create innovative three-year bachelor degrees, which it says should be much broader than many existing three-year ordinary degrees (Rec 2). The committee believes this would be more useful to many students and employers than the specialist four-year honours degrees taken by around 70 per cent of students.
The committee hopes for a wide variety of bachelor courses, straddling arts and science faculties, for example, or with a vocational slant, dovetailing with Higher National Certificate and Diploma courses in further education.
"We all appreciate we are going to be accused of doing this to make it cheaper," Garrick said. "But this was educationally driven and I was quite surprised by the committee's unanimity in favour of an academically rigorous bachelors degree."
The committee anticipates continuing strong demand for in-depth honours courses from a "significant proportion" of students. It warns that if graduates have to contribute towards their course, the cost of qualifications must be the same across the UK, and Scottish honours graduates must not be penalised for their extra year. The Dearing report makes it clear that they will not (Rec 81).
The Scottish qualifications framework also highlights the importance of sub-degree work in further education colleges. The 46 colleges, funded directly by the Scottish Office, provide more than a quarter of all Scottish higher education. The Garrick committee proposes setting up a further education funding council, linked to a higher education funding council by a single administration and chief executive (Rec 23).
It vetoes a single tertiary council on the grounds that further education must meet local needs, while higher education has a more national and international outlook. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council presently funds only higher education institutions, but Sir Ron Garrick recommends that a higher-education funding council should be responsible for all degree work, including courses in further education colleges. A further education funding council should fund courses up to HND level (Rec 24).
This would affect the University of the Highlands and Islands project, which is being managed and funded in the further education sector. Garrick proposes that higher education should take responsibility for UHI's degree level courses, backed by the necessary funding (Rec 25).
Sir Ron Garrick has also intervened in the dispute over whether SHEFC should join the new Quality Assurance Agency, saying it should contract with the QAA "at an early date", so long as the agency is sensitive to the Scottish system, ideally through a Scottish branch (Rec 10).
The report praises growing industry links; urges Scottish companies to encourage senior staff to serve on institutions' governing bodies (Rec 19); and calls for an end to the student-elected rector chairing the court at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews universities (Rec 20).