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No 'fudging' of HE and FE

There should be no "fudging" of the distinction between further and higher education, the Educational Institute of Scotland has told the Dearing inquiry into higher education.

As the deadline for submissions to the committee passes, Scottish representation has pressed a consensual case for preserving the four-year honours degree, ensuring a broad curriculum, maintaining wide student access, removing student debt and opposing the imposition of tuition fees on students. The SNP's case to Dearing, also published this week, encapsulated these arguments for a distinctive Scottish HE system.

It is, however, the distinctiveness between FE and HE that has been eroding over the past few years. Scottish Office figures show that a third of FE students are in HE institutions, and a quarter of HE students are in FE colleges.

The number of students pursuing HE courses in the colleges grew by 16 per cent between 1993-95, forcing the Scottish Office to cap the numbers of full-time HE students in FE (with the exception of the Highlands and Islands where the colleges will form the basis of the region's university).

The EIS acknowledges there has been a blurring of the edges but adds: "Higher education institutions are significantly different from those institutions which are mainly involved in providing further education, and we would not be in favour of fudging this difference through the use of a term such as tertiary education.

"Closer links between the sectors should be encouraged, including the building of credit recognition and accumulation arrangements, but 'mission-drift' should be avoided in the interests of all concerned."

The SNP makes a more positive case for co-operation between the sectors, urging Dearing to view education as a continuum. The Scotcat framework, which allows students to gain credit for achievement, will ease the passage from FE into HE, the SNP states.

Meanwhile, at the Scotcat conference in Edinburgh on Monday, Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, claimed consensus for the Government's policy that "further expansion of higher education - at least at the rate of a few years ago - should no longer be a top priority for the public purse, and that instead students should in future make a greater contribution to the costs of tuition".

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