Thursday, April 23, 2009

you mean you pay to go to university??!

Whilst once again we hear in Ireland that "proposals are to be submitted to cabinet in the near future" regarding fees for accessing higher education, in Scotland (I know, I can hear you think, "groan, here he goes again" -but indulge me, please!) things are different. Yes, for many years University principals (ie Presidents or Vice-Chancellors) have been seeking fees to bridge a perceived gap in funding compared to English universities, but their opinion is not shared at all by the wider public or by the SNP government, who insist that they are taking a principled stand that education should be free to all. In a world where much of politics is devoid of principles and commitment to an ideological standpoint, it makes an interesting test case.  

More recently, the universities have come to recognise that such arguments will get nowhere and in an article in the Times Higher accept that the issue is way off the agenda in that country. With increasing divergence from England being reflected even amongst those previously most avowedly unionist institutions (indeed prior to the last Scottish election many university principals and distinguished academics wrote letters to the press arguing against voting for the party that ultimately won - not clever)  it is an interesting development. The fact that English academics are starting to preach patronisingly on the theme is hardly likely to win converts.

The other major development in recent years, and which we've blogged about in the past, is that of the collaborative ventures across institutions in Scotland. This 'research pooling' model really has taken off and in some cases has led to tremendous success. The same issue of the Times Higher reports that interest in this approach is also growing south of the border (the Scotland-England one that is!) although I know from speaking to colleagues involved in these developments, it is a little more difficult there to establish coherent clusters of institutions, something much easier to do in a smaller country.

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