A Scottish solution to a UK and international problem?

Responding to an invitation from the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell MSP, Universities Scotland (the umbrella body for Scottish universities) last week published a paper entitled Towards a Scottish Solution. The purpose of this is to map out a possible framework for sustainable funding for the higher education sector, in the light of budget cuts and a new funding and tuition fees régime likely to emerge in England in the wake of the Browne review.

Without wanting to play down the overall scope and purpose of the paper, its key recommendation (or plea) is perhaps found in one sentence on page 9:

‘Graduates should contribute towards the cost of higher education in Scotland.’

There are, as you would expect, various riders and conditions and caveats (many of them focusing on widening access), but the essence of what the Scottish university Principals are saying is the Scotland’s universities cannot remain competitive without a contribution by its users alongside the substantial state investment, and they recommend that this contribution should be paid post-graduation. That is a position that I would also endorse.

The paper sets all this in the context of what it describes as a number of ‘important principles’ that should under-pin higher education, these being:

International competitiveness
A high-quality learning experience
Wide access, regardless of socioeconomic background
Research excellence
Diverse demands, diverse missions, diverse excellence
Partnership and engagement
Responsibility and initiative: autonomous, sector-led change
Financial sustainability

Of course I am very aware that I am commenting on the position paper of an organisation to which I shall shortly be contributing myself, and of course I do so in the knowledge of the very complex environment in which it operates, but I might take the view that the description of a ‘Scottish solution’ should perhaps have elements that set Scotland’s higher education system apart from that of everywhere else and paint a picture of specifically Scottish innovation and creativity. I say this because the above list of principles would, frankly, be any country’s list of principles. It is perfectly good, but not necessarily distinctive. I am looking forward to taking a more active role in this debate, and in the affairs of a higher education sector that has many hallmarks of excellence.

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35 Comments on “A Scottish solution to a UK and international problem?”

  1. Fred Says:

    Ferdinand as you said this seems to be actally a common solution,with some “Scottish elements” especially in the UK area. When I first heard about a “Scottish solution” I expected to see something like a Norwegian solution which actually is quite distinctive when the discussion is comming to university funding.

    • iainmacl Says:

      A ‘scottish solution, ‘ Fred, will only really be possible when the government there has full control over financial matters and is no longer constrained by Westminster impositions. Funding priorities would be very different were they able to stop wasting billions on arcane nuclear weapon systems and to harness both taxes from the North Sea Oil and Gas and reap the full benefit of the wave, wind and tidal resources which currently require feudal payment to the Crown. Oops, is that political? Sorry.

      • Fred Says:

        True. But for now let’s still hope that at the end the Scottish solution will at least be more university friendly in terms of sustainability but more student friendly too.

  2. Vincent Says:

    At least the Scots asked the people involved. And while I totally disagree with the Grad Tax at least in the UK there is an outside chance that they would collect it and hand it over.
    In Ireland, given that they had an EU allowance of 70mil for mature students and thought they had their own use of this money, there are two chances, one slim, that the Irish Uni’s would get sight of it.

    Grand job with the Awkward One last night. Herself from Maynooth got a bit of a baptism. And good on her, she stood up to him, eventually.

  3. copernicus Says:


    I should degree with you about Scottish-specific solution, and your observation about “Scotland’s higher education system apart from that of everywhere else and paint a picture of specifically Scottish innovation and creativity”, my response is that it is a nice slogan to have. I do not want to argue about the usual talk on nuclear free zones.
    The Scottish government can raise about 3% as taxes locally, and no Scottish government since the devolution has done this.

    The option staring Scotland is stark: 1) the government (tax payer) contributes to the utopian dream of ” free education” 2) There is contribution by fees by students. There is no half-way house here.

    I said else where, the Scots have to wake up and smell the coffee. The SNP and Scottish Labour the two parties likely to have the best chance of becoming the largest parties are skirting around the issue, and academics who are SNP supporters say things that even Fiedel Castro would not say as it is socialism in an utopian patch of land. Scottish Labour egged on by the its masters in England will fudge the issue looking at graduate tax, which will do nothing to improve the current crying need of resources to the Scottish universities.

    Of course, there is a neat solution to minimise the resource needs and focus the resources available. That is merger of universities. For example, RGU could merge with Aberdeen(which was mooted years ago and was rejected by RGU staff) the former expanded willy nilly to a ridiculous level that it had to scour India for students in hundreds. In Indian terms, the best students go to USA, the next best ones to RG in England, the third category to universities like Aberdeen, institutes like IITs in India and top universities in India; the fourth bunch go to local colleges; in that order as there is strict selection in colleges and universities with entrance examinations. The remaining rejects are picked by post-92s, and RGU and other scottish post-92s are no exception. These students have high drop out rates and those left move to England after graduation swelling the aspiring crowd of immigrants in England. Indeed, they come to Scotland which is a gateway to England. Trim RGU size and merge it with U of Aberdeen. Similar mergers are feasible and should be seriously contemplated.

    • Fred Says:

      with all respect may I ask why you are focusing too much on post-1992 universities and RGU? I agree that mergers could be a solution in some cases but RGU seems to work well and it is probably equally strong if not stronger from U of A in financial terms. Furthermore, I know people (EU citizens or UK) that choose RGU for postgraduate courses because of it’s connection with industry despite the fact that they have sound academic and professional backround. Last but not least RGU improves substantialy its performance in league tables in contrast with older universities like Stirling Salfor, Bradford etc which are loosing ground. Maybe mergers may be more sensible in areas like Edinburgh or Glasgow which have 4 and 3 univesities. Again I haven’t any relation with RGU, quaite the oposite, I do have a relation with a RG but I can accept that they are doing a pretty good job.

      • copernicus Says:

        The reason is simple, I am sorry to observe post-92s recruit any one without regard to entry requirements, and they have a relatively high drop out rate. RGU expansion is not because of EU students, and the league table of Guardian gives RGU a good picture but not other league tables. If you examine where the excess recruits of RGU and Aberdeen go, you will get the real picture. Please read the RGU recruiting spree in India this year, and trace where those who recruited from there are now after graduation, and why they come to Scotland.

      • copernicus Says:

        The RGU and U of Aberdeen merger was mooted by the U of Aberdden nearly 7/8 years ago, and my understanding with my contacts with U of Aberdeen is that they are still interested in a formal merger to create a strong university with academic and professional ethos that can support the NE oil industry and new industries coming up. U of Aberdeen’s Engineering department is very strong now, the diet of research and courses are vastly stronger compared to RGU.

        The new fee structure in England will sort out most of the weaker post-92s and we can see mergers in that sector. There could be mergers too in RG.

        Finally, about RGU’s connection with industry. It was stronger when it was RGIT, and polytechnics generally lost their vocational training ethos when they became universities. Look at the University of Westminster in London. As Polytechnic of Central London (and before then as Regent Street Polytechnic, here Alexanger Fleming studied before going to study medicine)., it was noted for its excellence in industry-oriented courses. Now where is it going?

        • Fred Says:

          Thanks for reply. My feeling is that there are some post-1992 Unis that consist an exemption in terms on performance. These include RGU, Nottingham Trent and maybe 1-2 others. They are making a quite good progrees and Guardian is not the only league table that confirms that. Times new league table position 46 RGU and around there the Trent too. So they outperform year by year older unis. One could argue that while 1960’s unis had many average universities as those I mentioned before, York, Warwick, Bath and others were performed especially well (and outperfor most of RGs)but again they needed their time “in market”.

          On the other hand U of A while is a strong Uni, it doesn’t have the image that other ancients or redbrick’s have. So it neither beats nor outperforms other ancients or redbricks and it is struggling even with plate glass type. So U of A has a lot to gain from a merger. Last but not least the market that they focus is different.
          I also believe though that there will be a lot of mergers in England. As you said weak Unis will have tough times but I do really hope that universities with potential will servive independently. This will help the economy from many points of view.

        • anna notaro Says:

          your view of education, Copernicus, is opposite to mine, yours is focused on the ‘vocational ethos’ and perfectly in tune with the business model that has so pervasively contamined academia in recent years. Universities, just like any company should merge because it makes ‘economic sense’, what you seem unfamiliar with is the ‘university ethos’, of which the vocational is only one aspect. I might be a naive idealist, still it is exactly at times of crisis like this that one needs to hold firmly to one’s own principles..

  4. copernicus Says:

    @Fred. BTW , the Sunday Times UK university league table 2010 places RGU at 54, Bradford at 52 and Stirling at 32. Nottingham Trent is not a good example at 57 in the league table, it has had problems and a few good academics left. Demontfort may be or Even Herts may be. I talk about RGU as some one who knew it well as RGIT and has kept in touch with colleagues and students since it became RGU. U of Aberdeen has strong biomedical and engineering departments, the latter is strengthened now. RGIT was strong in Engineering when U of Aberdeen was weak in this area in 1980s. The gain in my opinion will be RGU which expanded too much and contraction is the only option left.

    @anna notaro. Where does it say that I should agree with you? As for “perfectly in tune with the business model that has so pervasively contamined academia in recent years” that is what UCU says in England, a self-serving bunch. I do not comment on what you believe in unlike you seem to in my case. The reality is hitting hard to so many academics. They should have seen it coming.

    • anna notaro Says:

      obviously juxtapposing opinions does not automatically imply that agreement is expected of anybody, personalising is only functional, in this case, to expressing a contrasting view, further confirmed by your last comment. For the record like most of my colleagues I have not been living in a parallel reality in the past few years and I cannot accept the implication that ‘we should have seen it coming’ as if we had a say in the economic debacle brought about but the same world of business which now dictates the way in which universities are structured..

      • copernicus Says:

        Business creates wealth and business employs university graduates and they have a say whether we like it or not.

  5. Than Says:

    Fred why are you debating in post-1992 with copernicus? It is rather clear that most of copornicus posts are strongly against any post 1992 university. These are the results of fanatism or elitism. The whole university sector is in trouble and I cannot see a reason why these trubles do not affect older or modern universities. At the end Russell Group doesnt’ care at least for things as wide access for children with no sound socioeconomic backgroung. It is a same that Scotland has to charge high fees and reduce finance to it’s universities. Scotland should have a unique solution because has a much longer tradition in higher education. When England had 2 unis, Aberdeen had 2 it self! Why on earth should be any discussion about universities mergers or close or whatever? Copernicus can you understand the impact on lectures, researchers, students and society in general that these proposals may have? At the very end Scotland’s modern unis outperfom England’s modern unis on average and probably rgu is the very best example. Scotland should protect university funding no matter what. It should be a major aim for any goverment. And the problem is not modern universities. The problem is that goverments aiming to reduce their liabilities in society which is the university sector in this case and accept private universities as the ultimate solution. So when a BPP university (which is a business like any other) come in the country let me know about the ancient vs modern university fight.

    • Fred Says:

      Than, I tend to agree with most of your comments, however private universities is not bad by default. They work extremely well in US (obviously I do not mean BPP’s parent company) in their best applications but probably we haven’t see the best they can do in UK. As for copernicus, I dont see as a debate in the way I suppose you mean it.

      @copernicus: Don’t take leages number by number, when I refered to these modern unis I mean the bigger picture which to me is good and improving. Probaly DMU and Hert are also good examples.

  6. copernicus Says:

    @Than. You are debating with me having asked Fred not to do so! As for, “At the end Russell Group doesnt’ care at least for things as wide access for children with no sound socioeconomic backgroung..” you are at best ignorant and at worst have no knowledge about RG. Juandice view at best.Come and see at Imperial.

    Reality has not hit you at all. BPP is here, and it works with other universities. Liverpool U has strong link with a private provider of on-line masters courses, the result is a win-win situation. As for” modern universities in Scotland” outperforming “modern universities” in England, I did not say anything about these two at all! My argument about post-92s which you did not understand is that they should have remained as polytechnics in which capacity they were making good contribution.

    I have worked in polytechnics, post-92, pre-92, Oxbridge and private universities, and industry and am talking with expereince.

  7. copernicus Says:

    @Than. You are debating with me having asked Fred not to do so! As for, “At the end Russell Group doesnt’ care at least for things as wide access for children with no sound socioeconomic backgroung..” you are at best ignorant and at worst have no knowledge about RG. Juandice view at best.Come and see at Imperial.

    Reality has not hit you at all. BPP is here, and it works with other universities. Liverpool U has strong link with a private provider of on-line masters courses, the result is a win-win situation. As for” modern universities in Scotland” outperforming “modern universities” in England, I did not say anything about these two at all! My argument about post-92s which you did not understand is that they should have remained as polytechnics in which capacity they were making good contribution.

    I have worked in polytechnics, post-92, pre-92, Oxbridge and private universities, and industry and am talking with experience.

    • Than Says:

      Probably you now more for the reality that haven’t hit me at all but I would very much like to hear a credible argument on why we should close/merger/eliminate/return to previous status modern universities and at the same time open (more) the door to private corporations that have failed in their own countries?
      As for U of Liverpool on line programes I am not sure for whom it is a win/win situation. For the uni and the on-line provider? Of course it is. But still ideologicaly I very much prefer University of Durham, York, Imperial, RGU (to name few from any date) approach in on-line where the universities provide themselves the distance programes and these programs are exactly the same with those that are teaching on campus from the same academics with the same curiculum and not different programes that are just accredited by the university. If you are careful you will see that most online programs in Liverpool are not the same with the the campus based so the quality and experience of the student may be in question.
      To close the discussion I cannot understand Egland’s approach to cut funding and damage it’s universities when at the same time the door is open for corporations that don’t even sign things as freedom of information. And while it is probably a dead story for England I hope it is not the case for Scotland. It is not a personal debate at the end.

      • copernicus Says:

        Whatever I commented I do with personal experience unlike you do in the case of Liverpool. It is ideological pure and simple, and academics ask the students for evidence in their comments!! As for Imperial, I do know more as a Londoner with children studying there and as some one who work closely with them. You buy your car, travel privately, take holidays booking in private companies, eat in private restaurants and when it comes to education, you have allergy towards private providers and want the public money by hitting the tax payer! Some argument indeed!

        • Than Says:

          If there could be any chance to see any tax reduction because of a reduction in funding for universities I could be with you. But it is veery unlikely. The opposite is possible. Reduction in university funding (and other public sector funding) but increase in taxes and maybe increase in spending for say military issues. Most of the older generation studied in UK free without having to think anything but studying. Now this generation argues that the new should pay…

          As for the Liverpool I do have some personal opinion for the online course as I do have some for Durham’s too.

  8. copernicus Says:

    Sorry for double posting. Something happened at the server end.

  9. Al Says:

    @ Copernicus and Anna

    Could I put a different slant on the debate.
    Higher learning may or may not have vocational application.
    Those that argue that HL should or shouldnt may be missing the point that it is important to be apply to apply ones learning, be it vocational or not.

  10. Than Says:

    Yes but as you see some people miss the bigger picture by default, to use your term, since despite being academics they cannot accept any other opinion except their own. See yours, my and anna’s case as an example.

  11. copernicus Says:

    @Than Personal opinion, not personal experience of teaching such courses say in Liverpool? Personal opinion could be personal prejudice if not backed up by specific experience. Perhaps you do not need it? No use in arguing with academics who do not bring personal experience but bring ideology instead. Free university education was there not when 45% above of the population were pushed to go to university, and not when any one irrespective of entry background could be invited during clearing..Days were different. Those days of free education you refer to doctors charged for consultation, people died of infection,people did not have longevity.. Saying all private is bad in education, and public is superior is ideological nonsense if there is no evidence to support that argument.

    • Than Says:

      Personal experience: MBA on line Durham (student), Personal opinion, Global Marketing master, Liverpool from my brother (student). Quite substantial differences in quality and participation of academics.

      • copernicus Says:

        What about your own experience on what Liverpool on-line masters are all about? Never asked about Durham!

        • Than Says:

          Do you thing that brothers who study relevant things, work together and live in the same building have dont exchange experiences? I have see most of comments, student feedback and the online environment that quite frankly are incomparable. This is partly because university don’t have immediate control on everything since it is a different company in charge. It is the most logical explanation since otherwise liverpool is a good uni with good academics as shown in RAE and league tables.

          But if you asking me this, then the logical question is about your experience (or maybe opinion) for:

          Robert Gordon
          and many others…

  12. copernicus Says:

    @Al What about jobs at the end of a degree? Not all can be royals learning for learning sake?

    • Al Says:

      I would be a hard core vocationalist.
      But I would respect those that believe in an educational virginity that would see their virtue uncorrupted by such menial things as labour…
      I would agree with you, publicly funded education shouldnt tolerate such aristocratic whims.
      Learning for learnings sake is a private passtime.

      • copernicus Says:

        I have seen plethora of yougsters unemployed, like my neighbour’s sons and daughters who have not secured a job after nearly 1 year after graduation. They do odd jobs, in supermarket and they are demoralised. In contrast, their cousin did a vocational diploma in ICT and she has been employed the day she left the local college.

  13. copernicus Says:

    @ I was an academic in all those places except BPP where I was a validator for their degrees As for Liverpool if you give your brother’ name I will ask the Dean of Business School there to explain how their on-line masters are run by this private company, and how they monitor to keep the standards.

    • Than Says:

      He had already contact him. But, that was a kind proposal from you, so thanks!

      • Than Says:

        And to finnish it, I had also experience in recruiting business and engineering graduates and professionals in Scotland. And believe me or not post-92 university graduates are by no means worse than older universities. I may argue for the opposite in cases. RGUs business and engineering graduates are exceptionally prepared and the same applies for caledonian business grad. I put them on a same level with strathclyde and HW business and engineers as far as Scotland is concerned. So this is why I don’t agree with your “entry requirements” issue since the output is of high quality. This is also partly why I am afraid of university companies that can come and go in a very short time and left students or graduates with a degree from a uni that doesn’t exist anymore. The latter also applies when a public uni close merge etc.

        • copernicus Says:

          I have to strongly disagree with you, having worked in academic and industry for 4 decades across 3 continents.

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