Wilson funding blast

April 10, 1998

Scottish education minister Brian Wilson has accused academics of "schizophrenia" in their approach to government funding for higher education.

Mr Wilson, addressing a Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals seminar at Strathclyde University, was responding to a plea from Strathclyde's principal, Sir John Arbuthnott, for increased funds following the comprehensive spending review.

Sir John said Scotland was facing a 2.75 per cent cut in real terms, with Strathclyde having suffered a 10 per cent cut of almost Pounds 7.5 million over the past four years. This was the equivalent of 300 academic posts, five and a half years of planned maintenance, 80 per cent of its business faculty, or two university libraries, he said.

"There really does have to be a satisfactory outcome of the CSR or I cannot guarantee the future of this university as a quality institution," he said.

Mr Wilson said the CSR was continuing and higher education claims were well recognised. "But there is another avenue of funding," he said. "The primary purpose of the changes in student funding is precisely to get more money into higher and further education.

"There is a certain amount of schizophrenia in higher education. On the one hand, you need and want the money. On the other, you are at best ambivalent about recognising the merits of the means of raising it."

Students could not lose by investing in their own higher education, since they would get the return in terms of higher salaries over their working lives.

"But if they subsequently did not earn, they would not have to repay their loan," he said. "Commentators, often middle-class journalists who enjoyed subsidised education, have criticised our plans as a barrier to the less well-off.

"We need to remember that participation from the lowest income groups was tiny in the days of full grant, and rose rather than fell when grants were reduced and loans introduced. There were no halcyon days of generous grants and wide access. It is a myth," he said.

In an oblique reference to Scottish institutions' fears that students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom will be deterred by four years of tuition fees for a Scottish honours degree, Mr Wilson said that if they were concerned about a drop in demand from traditional sources, they could replace them by widening access from their local communities.

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