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Facing up to life after devolution;Leading Article;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

THE research study into the education and training systems of the four countries of the United Kingdom (page three) found only slight differences. There was evidence of more interdependence than independence. But the conference to launch the findings raised the more interesting question of what will happen as Scotland, Wales and (prospectively) Northern Ireland stretch their devolutionary wings.

The first assumption would be greater divergence. But there is evidence already in Edinburgh and Cardiff of countervailing influences, notably the continuation of a "British" civil service and the need to ensure, for example, that qualifications allow ready access to the UK labour market whose centre is in England. Even our age-old Master of Arts degree is under threat.

There are many questions, few answers. Will Scottish society prove content with the limited form of devolution now being practised, because MSPs ensure that a distinctively Scottish agenda is set and delivered? It is hard, for example, to imagine Whitehall establishing the 20-year programme to create social justice that the First Minister launched on Monday. Or will the fact that education policy and practice depend heavily on the Treasury and UK employment legislation spur demands for further change?

Scotland has a coalition, Wales a minority government and Northern Ireland may soon have an executive in which Sinn Fein heads one of two proposed education departments and the DUP the other. In other words, political exigency is paramount. Pressures within the society served by each legislature will also determine next steps. So, too, will events outside the UK, especially the increasing role of Europe.

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