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Scotland: A boost for higher education funding

Late December brought official word from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) on the planned investment in Scotland’s universities for 2012/13. In total, GBP 1.02 billion (EUR 1.2 billion) will be allocated to the sector, which represents an 8.2% increase over funding levels for 2011/12. Making good on its promise several months back (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, September 2011), the SFC noted that the Scottish government is putting in place legislation to de-regulate tuition fees charged to students domiciled in the rest of the UK (RUK) and will no longer fund RUK entrants. This move frees up some GBP 27.8 million (EUR 33.2 million), which in turn has been reallocated to “restore cuts made to the Main Teaching Grant in AY 2001/12, and to support high cost subjects (including science, engineering, veterinary science and design and creative arts) and expensive controlled clinical subjects (medicine and dentistry)”.

The increased funding does come with some strings attached, however. By the start of the 2012/2013 academic year, the country’s higher education institutions must have in place “outcome agreements” that lay out the targets against which institutional performance will be evaluated. Nine specific areas of interest have been identified by the Scottish government for improved performance by universities, including retention; access to university for people from the widest possible range of backgrounds; international competitiveness in research; university/industry collaboration and the exploitation of research; and the entrepreneurial and employability skills of graduates. Penalties are also envisioned for over-enrolment of students, while repayment of allocations may be necessary in cases of under-enrolment.

Some worry the outcomes agreement requirements represent unprecedented levels of control over enrolment and other matters. However, Universities Scotland, which represents the sector’s interests, greeted the news about the funding increase “warmly” and with confidence that Scottish universities can “work constructively with the Funding Council on the demonstration of outcomes so the Scottish government can be confident in its investment”.

Scottish Funding Council