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Emphasis on HEfunding queried

THE IMPACT of scrapping the pound;2,289 graduate endowment fee on Scotland's universities is likely to be one of the first inquiries held by the parliamentary education committee, according to its newly-appointed convener.

Karen Whitefield, Labour MSP, questioned whether such a move was in the best interests of higher education. "It must be scrutinised," she said, as the Scottish Executive announced plans for a new bill to abolish the graduate endowment.

"There is a role for the education committee to ask whether or not the new emphasis on the funding of higher education is the right one," said Ms Whitefield. "Will it improve the quality of higher education? Will it enable more students to participate? Will educational institutions be able to retain staff? These things need to be looked at and scrutinised."

The other members of the education committee are Rob Gibson (SNP and deputy convener), Aileen Campbell (SNP), Christina McKelvie (SNP), Ken Macintosh (Lab), Pauline McNeill (Lab), Elizabeth Smith (Con) and Jeremy Purvis (LibDem).

Political commentators have suggested that committees will have an even more important role to play under the new minority administration, with the SNP using them to test out policies and build consensus.

Certainly, Ms Whitefield was keen to emphasise she would be looking for consensus not confrontation. She predicted that, with no overall majority in the committee, she will have a new challenge: getting everyone to agree.

"Education is one of those areas where we can reach agreement," she said. "But there will undoubtedly be different views."

The committee meets for the first time next Wednesday when the convener and vice convener will be formally appointed and members will have the opportunity to put in bids for subjects they think deserve scrutiny.

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