College leaders commission independent review of HE

11th February 2011 at 00:00
Former First Minister to lead examination of how higher education is funded and delivered

An independent review of the future of higher education has been commissioned by Scotland's college principals, in disregard of the SNP Government's stance that such a move is not necessary.

The commission on higher education, to be chaired by former First Minister Henry McLeish, will examine how higher education is funded and delivered in Scotland.

The review, commissioned by Scotland's Colleges, will weigh all aspects of the delivery of higher education including funding, widening access, implications of changes to student funding in England and the needs of the economy.

The announcement comes in the wake of calls from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour that independent scrutiny of the sector is urgently required.

However, the SNP has said a review is unnecessary. A green paper on higher education published by Education Secretary Michael Russell last November is currently out for consultation.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said that colleges operate independently of government, and that it was for them to consider the best way in which they might offer views to ministers on matters relevant to their activities.

"We accept that Scotland's Colleges will want to consider, through the group which Mr McLeish will chair, the delivery within colleges of HE- level courses," the spokesman said.

"Scotland's Colleges are aware that we have asked for all responses to the green paper to be submitted by February 25. We are grateful to them for their input in the process to date."

Liberal Democrat deputy education spokesman Hugh O'Donnell said he looked forward to the outcome of the review.

"As it stands, the SNP budget cuts are too severe for colleges, threatening places and bursaries. The Scottish Government should be focused on boosting economic recovery by investing in further education," he said.

Mr McLeish said: "This is a challenging time for the colleges and universities, and the commission will seek to reinforce and review the importance of the growing contribution being made by the college sector to higher education."

The commission provided an excellent opportunity to "consider new challenges - especially finance - and to acknowledge and learn from some of the best international practice", he said.

Principal of Adam Smith College and vice-chairman of the commission, Dr Craig Thomson, said the commission's challenge was to develop a more holistic view of the higher education sector.

"It is also critically important that the higher education debate in Scotland widens to include the significant positive social and economic impact of college-based higher education, an element that is, more often than not, omitted," he said.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: "Universities Scotland has been keen to build on the close collaboration that already exists between universities and colleges as part of our suggestions, first put forward last year, as to how you might streamline the learner journey."

Universities Scotland had been consistent in recognising the key role colleges play, but it was also important to recognise that colleges and universities make very distinctive offerings in terms of the higher education they produce, he said.

He added: "It's interesting that this review has been launched to run at the same time as the Scottish Government's own green paper on higher education. It will be important to ensure that the two reviews are not confused and that the timescale of Scotland's Colleges' review does not delay the urgent need to find a Scottish solution for Scotland's universities."

The Commission

Due to report in the summer

Chairman: Henry McLeish, former First Minister

Vice-chairman: Craig Thomson, principal of Adam Smith College

Secretary: Neil Cuthbert, public affairs and communications manager, Scotland's Colleges


James Alexander, policy and communications manager at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry;

Stewart Brymer, lawyer and honorary professor at Dundee University;

Jennifer Cadiz, vice-president, NUS Scotland;

Marian Docherty, depute principal, Newbattle Abbey College;

Angela Potter, relationship director (education. Healthcare and communities), Santander Corporate Banking;

John Spencer, principal, Inverness College UHI;

Gill Troup, vice-principal, University of the West of Scotland;

Rob Wallen, principal, Aberdeen College;

Andrew Watson, managing director, Quayle Munro.

Expert Advisers

Phil Ker, CEO, Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand;

Irene Lewis, president, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Canada;

Roger Mullin, education consultant and honorary professor at Stirling University.

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