One side-effect of the plans, from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, would have reduced funding for initial teacher education by as much as pound;2 million, a 6 per cent cut. This severely embarrassed ministers just when they were looking to recruit another 4,000 teachers following the post-McCrone settlement.
Other courses provided by education faculties, such as continuing professional development, faced a 15 per cent cut.
In a critical report last October, the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee urged the funding council to "go back to the drawing board", saying that the evidence to back up its reforms was not strong enough. The council had "profoundly mishandled" the issue, MSPs said.
In its response, the Executive acknowledges that the plans had given rise to "significant concern" and may have created "unmanageable turbulence" in the higher education sector.
Teacher education institutions feared that universities would be unwilling to switch funding from other courses to bail out teacher education, and would be forced to favour more generously funded and shorter postgraduate programmes. This would have particularly weakened the four-year primary BEd.
The council has now revised these plans which will see the number of subject groupings for funding purposes reduced from 22 to 13, rather than six, which was the source of the squeeze on some courses. The Executive believes that this will lead to "a far less radical reallocation of resources but will still provide greater flexibility for institutions to respond to demand than is currently the case".
The funding council will also increase its support by pound;5.7 million next session for a number of programmes that would have faced running at a loss. But initial teacher education will receive only an additional pound;1 million.
Any longer-term changes in the funding of university teaching and research will not take place before 2004-05, the Executive has decided, not least because time is needed to take account of the parliamentary inquiry into lifelong learning, whose interim report is due within a fortnight.
The Executive also believes any fundamental changes in funding should await the outcome of its own review of higher education. The funding council has declared that it is prepared to seek "more robust evidence" on the relative costs of funding different teaching programmes, and will discuss the possibility of carrying out a more rigorous study with representatives of Universities Scotland.