Business has recognised that partnership, not competition is the way forward and education should pay heed, Charles Moncur, BP's former head of public affairs in Scotland, told a meeting run by the Commission on Scottish Education in Edinburgh last week.
The commission produced 60 recommendations in September outlining key areas for development. The 132-page report was sponsored by the Hamlyn Foundation, the General Teaching Council and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.
Mr Moncur, who chairs the commission, told the meeting: "I question the extent to which education can be resourced by competition, market forces and business-led solutions. Even in highly competitive areas like the oil industry companies are seeing the benefits of the partnership approach."
He added: "We are genuinely sympathetic to politicians. There are competing claims on the public purse but in the new technological age we are in, it is not a question of whether we can afford to invest in education but whether we can afford not to."
The commission's report controversially backed the principle that students should pay towards tuition fees. "Moving from one in eight going into FE and HE to one in three is something that is welcome but there is a concern with the experience of those going in," Mr Moncur said.
He was supported by Dick Louden, the commission's secretary, who told critics: "There is only a limit you can go to in terms of the public purse." Many households contributed taxes for post-school education without seeing a return. Mr Louden, a former senior official in Strathclyde, said the commission envisaged students paying only a small amount. "We would be desperately sad if it crippled any student," he said.
Peter Breeze, past president of the Association of University Teachers, dismissed suggestions from the Scottish National Party and others to restore grants to 1979 levels, which would add up to 6p to the basic rate of income tax if it was extended to further and higher education students.
Astrid Ritchie, spokeswoman for the Conservatives' education policy group, said young people should be encouraged to pay since increased earning power would justify the outlay. "We already pay rather over the top for higher education," Mrs Ritchie said.