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The last five to ten years have seen many big developments impacting Scotland’s tertiary education system. Some positive changes have included:

National initiatives around enterprise and skills.

New modes of delivery including graduate apprenticeships and online learning.

Greater cross-over between college and university pathways.

However, the tertiary sector also finds itself facing increasingly complex and unprecedented challenges ranging from:

  • Increasing marketisation and competition between education providers.
  • The changing demographic of the student body.
  • Brexit and its impact on funding, free movement, and other factors.
  • Internationalisation.
  • Debates about the allocation of public funding to different areas of tertiary education, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These factors have yet to prove positive or negative but they are undeniably occurring at a time of growing pressure on staff time and shrinking resources within institutions.

It is certain that tertiary education will continue to evolve and transform over the next few decades, with implications for learners, the economy and society alike.

Disruptions such as Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as more long-term trends like the ongoing digital revolution, mean this change will not always be steady nor predictable. Tertiary education will need to become resourceful and agile in the face of these forces, continuing to provide a key service while also contributing to the solutions that society needs to thrive.

This project, therefore, aims to:

Stimulate wide-reaching and informed debate about tertiary education futures by bringing in a wide range of views and perspectives.

Provide insights, advice and recommendations to inform policy and practice around the future shape, delivery and funding of tertiary education in Scotland.



With a focus on facilitating dialogue and debate, the project is centred on a series of discussions with staff, students, employers and the wider public which look to capture their experiences, ideas and ambitions for the future of tertiary education in Scotland. These discussions will ground our findings in real-world evidence and invite new and important voices to the table who have traditionally been underrepresented in conversations about tertiary education.


To start, the project invited current learners from over 12 different universities and colleges from across Scotland to share their perspectives on tertiary education and what they would like to see from the sector.

Read the roundtable report

Participants included representatives from:

  • City of Glasgow College
  • Dumfries and Galloway College
  • Edinburgh College
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • New College Lanarkshire
  • Queen Margaret University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Stirling
  • University of the West of Scotland


Building on the approach to our first discussion, we asked a variety of university and college staff about their views on the purpose, role, and value of tertiary education and where they see things headed.

Read the roundtable report

Participants included:

  • Lecturers and teaching staff
  • Student support staff
  • Technical roles
  • Management


Recognising that tertiary education extends far beyond the umbrella of universities and colleges, this discussion sought to better understand the boundaries of tertiary education and how alternative providers cater to the diverse and varying educational needs of Scotland’s learners.

Read the roundtable report

Participants included representatives from:

  • Scottish Prison Service
  • Military education
  • Adult learning
  • Skills agencies
  • Industry apprenticeships and training
  • Leisure learning
Research Re-Boot (Covid-19 Impact) Research Grant awardees networking


Greater collaboration will be a crucial element in building the more flexible, learning-centred tertiary system that society needs. These roundtables explored collaboration across the tertiary education landscape and with industry, looking at how these relationships may change in the future.

Read the roundtable report

Participants included representatives from:

  • Universities
  • Colleges
  • Local authorities
  • Widening access initiatives
  • Integrated academic-industry partnerships
  • Sectoral interest groups
  • Funding agencies
  • Multinational businesses
  • Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs)
  • Innovation centres


We are publishing blogs, articles, videos and podcasts from a range of contributors offering their insights on the current tertiary landscape as well as its future direction of travel.

Audrey Cumberford writes about why Scotland is well placed to capitalise on its strengths and make effective university-college collaboration the norm.
Jim King writes about the challenges of offering meaningful education opportunities within the prison system and why we should prioritise interventions that are creative, engaging, and relevant to the individual’s life and aspirations.
Dr James Mahon discusses the importance of relevant and industry-driven career-long professional learning (CLPL) to tertiary instructors.
Aileen Ponton, Chief Executive of the SCQF writes on how they are keeping pace with Scottish Education in the 21st Century.
Carl Gombrich writes about the benefits of problem-based learning and how it could benefit future approaches to education.
Paul Hagan and Rob Wallen write about college-university collaboration.
Jen Ross writes about digital futures for learning and how our perceptions have been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gordon Flockhart writes about alternative pathways into engineering.
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Maria Dornelas, Reader, School of Biology, University of St Andrews

What Is Higher Education For?
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Colin Graham, Senior Honorary Professorial Fellow, University of Edinburgh

Rebalancing Tertiary Education Curricula – A Systemic Approach
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Alice König, Senior Lecturer in Latin and Classical Studies, University of St Andrews

Strengthening Relations between Higher Education and Society

Have your say

We would welcome your thoughts on the future of tertiary education in Scotland. Please use the comment boxes to join the conversation:


Additional information

Our project has been informed by related pieces of work in the tertiary education space, including RSE and YAS’ own contributions to key inquiries such as:

Additionally, the Young Academy of Scotland has held several conversations about the future of higher education in Scotland and beyond.

Read about these on the Young Academy website