The search for a ‘Scottish solution’
Yesterday the Scottish government published a Green paper entitled Building a Smarter Future: Towards a Sustainable Scottish Solution for the Future of Higher Education. At its core is the view that the current development of higher education policy in England need not be a model for Scotland, and that in particular Scotland can continue to provide access to universities without fees (for Scottish students only, however).
In his Foreword, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Mike Russell, summarises the position as follows:
‘We are confident that public opinion in Scotland remains strongly in favour of ensuring that the prime responsibility for funding education at all levels remains with the state. Indeed the higher education sector in Scotland has confirmed its view that this Scottish tradition is of value and should be preserved. Consequently, our clear guiding principle in seeking long term stability for Scottish higher education – the so called “Scottish Solution” – will be the retention of public funding at the maximum sustainable level whilst also seeking new sources of revenue and enhancing existing ones and of course striving to get best value for every public pound and penny spent in and by the sector.’
The government’s plan is to gather all the information and data needed, through a working group to be established with Universities Scotland, so that the political parties can set out a higher education policy in the campaign for the Scottish elections in May. At the core of a successful policy, the Secretary suggests, will be a funding plan that will ensure that Scottish universities will not receive less funding than their English counterparts, who will now have the proceeds of the new and higher fees. It is not immediately easy to see how this can be achieved, but it is good that the government recognises the importance of equivalence of funding. The possibility of student contributions is not dismissed outright, but the risk is that students from outside Scotland become the main drivers of income, thereby potentially unbalancing the composition and attitude of the student population.
The debate in Scotland over coming months is bound to be interesting.