The government moved this week to placate universities by offering them an extra pound;10 million, writes Neil Munro.
Making the announcement, Fiona Hyslop, the Education and Lifelong Learning Secretary, said she was making good her promise to find extra money for the sector when she could. The cash comes from "in-year flexibility" and will be allocated immediately.
The universities had made strong representations to ministers after the three-year public spending settlement gave them a pound;30 million increase in real terms, instead of the pound;168 million they were asking for.
The extra money is an attempt to help universities meet cost pressures such as the rise in lecturers' pay. The universities also fear that the ability of universities in England to step up investment as a result of increased tuition-fee income will put them at a disadvantage. But the Scottish Government has pointed out that this additional funding will not kick in until the 2011-12 academic session and would be a matter for the next spending round.
In a newspaper interview this week, Ms Hyslop also suggested there could be a "concordat" agreement with the universities, similar to that for local authorities. This would give them more freedoms in return for agreeing some broad outcomes such as widening access and developing research. She said she recognised that universities were under financial pressures and she had given a commitment, during talks in November, to find more money if possible.
At that meeting, it was also agreed to set up a "joint future thinking taskforce" to explore the future of higher education in Scotland, which would include issues such as a concordat. The review is expected to report in late spring.