The parliamentary enterprise and lifelong learning committee has launched what it is billing as "the biggest strategic review of post-school education since the 1960s".
But its scrutiny will also extend to schools, Alex Neil, the committee's SNP convener, told The TESS. Outlining the scope of the inquiry this week, Mr Neil said: "There will be implications from our work for Jack McConnell (the Education Minister) as well as Wendy Alexander (the Lifelong Learning Minister)."
A major issue which the cross-party committee will address is the growing skills shortage, which it has already flagged up in its recent report on the New Economy. "We have over pound;1 billion in taxpayers' money being spent on further and higher education and training, and this sector is collectively worth pound;3 billion to the Scottish economy," Mr Neil said.
"Yet we are told repeatedly of shortages in the electronics industry, in oil and gas, in construction, in IT, in good management graduates - even in plumbing. So we have to ask, are we getting the bang for our bucks?" Mr Neil, with support from fellow committee members Marilyn Livingstone (Labour) and Annabel Goldie (Tory), believes schools must be part of the solution. Ms Goldie said: "If we are to tackle the skills deficit, we've got to start positioning young people in schools to want to become scientists and engineers."
It is clear that the committee will emphasise the value of vocationally-oriented, sub-degree courses. But all three MSPs stressed that, despite weekend press reports, they would do nothing "to compromise the academic excellence of the universities". Ms Goldie, a member of Strathclyde University court, said that was "vital".
The committee aims to issue an interim report in December, followed by a "lifelong learning convention" next February. The final report should follow in March and the Executive will use that as the basis for a new lifelong learning strategy.