The Garrick committee's report has been much less bothersome to the Scottish Office than the Dearing report. It was, of course, Dearing that had to tackle the fundamental problem of higher education, how to finance the teaching and maintenance of students. The resulting controversy, worse in Scotland because of four-year degree courses and the number of students from south of the border, has clouded the Education Minister's relations with higher education.
As his comments on the Garrick report make clear, Brian Wilson would like to steer discussion towards the 29 recommendations made in the Scottish framework, with most of which the Government concurs. The Garrick committee's hope of building on the Scottish tradition of higher education available to a wide section of society and emphasising breadth of study is entirely in tune with ministers' thinking.
Not enough progress has been made. Modern ways of reasserting the virtues of generalism, especially the proposed bachelor degrees built up by 300 credit points, meet immediately with Government approval. Instituting them is a matter for individual universities and colleges, as the Government points out, but a nod should be as good as a wink.
Separating higher education policy from funding is difficult, but ministers have to steer a careful course. They continue not to lay down firm advice about the balance between the new Highers and those at Advanced level. Individual institutions, or more likely faculties within them, will reach their own decisions in recruiting students, and over time the laws of the market will prevail. In other words, pupils aspiring to study law or medicine had better equip themselves with Advanced Highers. That poses problems for small schools in particular, but such difficulties need not be addressed in responding to Garrick.
Further education, which is more closely involved with higher education than south of the border, will welcome the decision to create a funding council. It makes sense for the boundaries between the councils for higher education and FE to be institutional rather than dependent on the qualifications offered, as Garrick proposed. But as John Cassidy, president of the College Lecturers' Association, points out (page 36), more work needs to be done in articulating Advanced Higher and existing HNCs and HNDs with university degrees. After all, FE holds one of the keys to the expansion of higher education everyone wants.