SFC Review of Higher and Further Education

The RSE hosted a roundtable discussion involving Fellows and Young Academy members as a contribution to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) review into the coherence and sustainability of further and higher education in Scotland.

The SFC review is being undertaken at a critical time for Scotland’s tertiary education sector given the significant and long term impacts of Covid-19.

The roundtable discussed key issues that the SFC review should consider, including those relating to learning and skills, research and innovation, funding and governance of tertiary education.

The RSE looks forward to engaging further as the review progresses.

Paper Summary

On 4th August 2020, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy, convened a discussion involving Fellows and Young Academy members with a range of experiences and interests related to higher and further education in Scotland. The discussion, held under the Chatham House Rule, was aimed at stimulating early-stage input to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) review of the coherence and sustainability of tertiary education provision in Scotland.

The RSE has inputted to the Scottish Government’s separate reviews of the economic impact of universities and colleges. The SFC review provides a timely opportunity to consider the purpose of tertiary education in a systemic and holistic way, ensuring that provision effectively and efficiently meets the current and future needs of learners and those of the Scottish economy and society more broadly.

This summary captures the key issues raised during the discussion and includes additional reflections provided by participants after the meeting. This discussion report has not been endorsed by the meeting participants; and unless specified, it does not necessarily reflect the views of the RSE. It has been submitted to the SFC as an initial RSE contribution to the review. The RSE looks forward to engaging further in the review, including through the RSE and Young Academy of Scotland joint programme of activity aimed at stimulating debate on the future of tertiary education in Scotland. Links to relevant RSE activities, advice papers and reports are listed at the end of this discussion report.

The SFC review is being undertaken at a critical time for Scotland’s tertiary education sector; not only in relation to the significant and long term impacts of Covid-19 but also the consequences arising from issues such as the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; international competition; demographic change; evolving skills’ needs; and the increasing role of digital provision.

Implementing systemic level change takes time and requires a full understanding of processes of change. Proposed changes will need to be carefully considered so that their implications are fully understood, and evaluation will need to be built-in from the outset. These points are particularly important to minimise the risk of unintended consequences.