The Government expects only a small minority of pupils to sit the new Advanced Highers and therefore the universities will have no option but to continue to use Highers as the basis for admission.
That is clear from evidence by the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals to the Dearing committee which is looking into the future of higher education. The committee, which supports Highers as the benchmark for entry, states: "It is now clear . . . that the Advanced Higher will be offered by only 10-12 per cent of the relevant cohort, and, of that, no more than a predicted 8-9 per cent will present Advanced Highers in subjects deemed relevant to HE entry."
Scottish Office "assurances" are understood to have come in the form of a briefing to higher education representatives by Ron Tuck, HMI in charge of the Higher Still development programme.
The committee is anxious to persuade Sir Ron Dearing and his committee of the need to preserve the four-year honours degree north of the border. The fact that most entrants to universities will come with Highers rather than with Advanced Highers, which can be taken only in the sixth year, underpins the principals' case: "We conclude that, for the foreseeable future, the introduction of the Advanced Higher will disturb the balance of first degree provision in Scotland no more than did the introduction of the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies in 1968."
The paper adds that Scottish school-leavers will continue to enter higher education on average one year younger than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK. To attempt to reduce the length of their university courses would entail another review of provision after the fifth year.
Although most teachers will welcome the universities' adherence to Highers, the notion of making the Scottish sixth year more meaningful, which underlay the Howie report and the Government's development of Advanced Higher, is not now likely to be realised. CSYS failed to take off in schools because it was not used to determine entry to university. Few students with CSYS (or A-levels) choose to bypass their first university year.
The attitude of academics at departmental level to entry qualifications will become clearer in a series of institution-by-institution seminars to start soon on the Higher Still programme. Universities will have to announce their entry qualifications less than a year from now so that pupils and schools can prepare for Higher or Advanced Higher courses from 1998.