The Scottish Executive has pledged to take account of the needs of further education as well as higher education when deciding how to handle the impact of top-up tuition fees.
This was made clear by Jim Wallace, Lifelong Learning Minister, in his response last week to the Scottish Parliament's "Scottish solutions" inquiry report on the consequences for Scotland of changes to the tuition fee regime south of the border.
The report, by the enterprise and culture committee of MSPs, urged ministers to ensure that, if they increased resources for higher education, "there should not be a presumption that these will be allocated solely to the universities and that the strategic importance of the further education sector should also be addressed".
The committee was reminding the Executive that Scottish colleges are major players in HE - 60 per cent of those starting an HE course for the first time do so in an FE college, the consequence of the significant contribution made by higher national certificate and diploma courses.
Mr Wallace responded: "We will consider the needs of further education in the forthcoming spending review. Our lifelong learning strategy places considerable emphasis on the need to look at further and higher education side by side."
He was also at pains to remind both sectors that time is on their side, a point also made by the Association of Scottish Colleges which has been advocating caution. "Even if the UK Parliament votes to approve the Higher Education Bill, top-up fees will not generate extra income for English institutions until 2006-07, and take between five and six years from now to have their full impact.
"This means that Scotland has the time to get this right. It is too important to respond in a knee-jerk way and get it wrong."
The Executive's response acknowledges that the Bill "has potentially an indirect and direct impact on Scotland. But it points out that annual funding for the HE sector will have increased from pound;600 million in 1999-2000 to more than pound;800 million by 2005-06.
Decisions on the period to 2008 will have to await the Executive's spending review, due in September.