Enter the non-specialist BA

25th July 1997 at 01:00
The Garrick report says it wants to maintain the distinctiveness of Scottish higher education while ensuring it remains "very firmly embedded within the overall UK system of higher education". It also aims to widen choice and flexibility for students but recommends changes should be gradually introduced over the next five years.

The report stresses the importance of preserving key features such as the greater participation in HE by young people in Scotland - about 10 per cent higher than the UK average - and the growing number entering university from poorer backgrounds, which rose from 4 per cent of school-leavers in 1980 to 15 per cent by 1994.

The Scottish committee's vision anticipates that "the traditional school-leaver entrants will be better qualified and that even more students will enter higher education through the further education route.

"Movement between institutions and courses will increase options and opportunities resulting in a wider choice of qualifications from which students can choose. Greater collaboration amongst providers will enable students undertaking study at one institution to select specialised modules that may be offered by other institutions."

The committee wants a fundamental shift in the balance between the 70 per cent who graduate each year with an honours degree and the 30 per cent who emerge with three-year ordinary degrees, prodded by the financial muscle of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council if necessary. The report notes student anxieties that employers do not value the three-year degree but suggests this may be because it is seen as a "failed honours". The committee's solution is that the ordinary or general degree, which has a long Scottish pedigree, should be "reinvigorated" as a new-style bachelors degree which should "become more central to the common experience of higher education".

The creation of this new "core" programme would be more relevant to employers and a more diverse student population than specialised, discipline-based courses, the report states. The committee agrees with the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals that the numbers taking three-year courses will rise dramatically as more students enter HE.

The committee believes the key emphasis of any course must be on "ability and attainment not years of study". It adds: "The honours degree has served us well and will continue to do so. However, evidence presented to us clearly heralds the need for change. Such change must, of course, be carefully introduced so as not to result in destabilisation of the existing system."

The report acknowledges the potential barrier against students whose first degree is a bachelors and who then want to take honours, for which they would not be entitled to any student grants or awards because it would count as a second degree. It urges the Student Awards Agency to treat such students in the same way as those on longer courses such as law and medicine.

But in promoting a general degree so vigorously, Garrick has been convinced by the argument that employers are more interested in general capability than narrow specialism. The report points out that more than 40 per cent of jobs advertised for graduates in recent years have sought applications largely irrespective of discipline.

The committee endorses Dearing's proposal that skills for employment should be embedded into all HE qualifications. These are communication, numeracy, the use of information technology, and learning how to learn.

The report sees a seamless link from school into HE or via FE into higher study, embodied in a new qualifications framework. This would build on the Higher Still school changes, while Higher National CertificateDiploma programmes would fit more easily with the second or third year of a bachelors degree.

The committee foresees a key role for the pioneering Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (SCOTCATS), where credit points are earned for achievement and students enabled to switch between institutions and courses. It suggests the Advanced Higher be given credit points; the HNCD would continue to be worth 120 and 240 points; the bachelors degree 360; and honours 480. Dearing also backs this system for the rest of Britain.

Although pressure from growing student numbers is the rationale behind the controversial charging for tuition fees, Garrick points out that growth in Scotland is likely to be "modest.'' This is because the Dearing target of having 45 per cent of under-21s entering HE over the next 20 years (compared with the UK figure of 32 per cent) has already been achieved in Scotland, thanks largely to the expansion of sub-degree courses in FE colleges. Official estimates are that the Scottish participation rate would rise to no more than 49 per cent of under-21s over the next 10 years.

The Scottish Office estimates there will be 152,000 undergraduates on full-time places by the year 2000, an increase of more than 24,000 students over 1994-95.

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