Editor's comment

13th February 2009 at 00:00

The Universities Scotland report published today (pages 1 and 18) is about the economy. So, on one level, it should be read on that basis. But, as a piece of special pleading, it takes some beating. What are they on? The report's essential argument is that national salvation lies in pumping more graduates into the economy rather than what it sneeringly describes as "saturating" it with those holding "sub-degree" qualifications. It also suggests there are no "economic" benefits to be gained from investing in primary or secondary schools - or even colleges, by the sound of it. This is a breathtakingly narrow definition of the economy.

There is a particular sneer reserved for Higher National Diploma graduates (who are not, of course, "real" graduates) on the basis that they do not get jobs and do not fulfil the needs of the "real" economy - despite the fact that employers in the "real" workplace have consistently rated them in the 80-year history of HND. It is ironic that this report appears in the same week that four very well-qualified individuals said sorry for the demise of institutions which many Scots thought impregnable. In doing so, they admitted they had no vocational qualifications.

Universities Scotland is right on one point: we do need to produce confident, inquisitive and innovative graduates to stimulate and add value to the resources of the nation. That is exactly what the school curriculum reforms are intended to provide, and the further education colleges are intended to extend. Investment will be necessary to get there - which will not materialise if the universities' typically narrow agenda holds sway.

The universities have often been accused of dominating the school curriculum, reinforcing an unreal division between the vocational and the academic. Their latest report will do nothing to assuage those critics. Ironically, its utilitarian prospectus could spell doom for many university courses. Professors of Greek may well have a word for it.

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