THE COMPROMISE that produced this week's Executive agreement out of the Cubie report has turned out to owe more to ministers in London than to the concerns of the minority party in the Scottish coalition. There was not enough money to fund the total pound;71 million Cubie package and although Donald Dewar and his Cabinet could have used as much of the total Scottish block as they wanted, there was no way in which sufficient savings could be found elsewhere, or the blessing of the Chancellor of the Exchequer achieved, a necessity not only under Labour demands for financial prudency across the United Kingdom but to limit the knock-on effects on student support south of the border.
By comparison with such inhibitions on the sextet of ministers who put the package together and the late realisation that European rules were another curb, the internal politics of the coalition caused few problems. The Liberal Democrats are happy that graduate payments have been detached from the former fee levels, lthough the starting point for contributions appears very low at pound;10,000. Amalgamating the payments with the loan repayment machinery is sensible not only administratively but also psychologically: former students will not feel that there is a difference in kind when their early-years salaries are being docked.
Inevitable in devolution are different solutions to common problems. Continued payment of fees by students at English universities may be unavoidable but it sends a poor signal. Scottish higher education must not allow itself to appear self regarding and parochial. A millennium conference last week at Edinburgh University (page six) heard of the need to preserve traditions and the best characteristics of Scottish student life. How such admirable aims are held to in an era of growing globalisation, where research knows no national boundaries, was not satisfactorily addressed.
The navel-gazing post-Cubie solution does not show our higher education in the best light.