We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

A Framework for Higher Education in Scotland: Higher Education Review Phase 2


A Framework for Higher Education in Scotland: Higher Education Review Phase 2

1 Executive summary


The higher education sector in Scotland has a record of excellence in the delivery of teaching and learning and research outcomes of which those who work in higher education, and Scottish society, can rightly be proud. But we cannot be complacent. The expectations and contribution of higher education are changing and it is important to look forward.

Higher education institutions are autonomous bodies whose independent status protects their ability to be challenging and creative in delivering teaching and research. But governments, funding bodies and other national organisations all play a critical role in setting the broad context for the day-to-day work of universities and colleges.

It is time for a new relationship between the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, the higher education sector, individual higher education institutions and the Scottish Executive. The model for these relationships is one which:

  • Puts learners and the delivery of relevant, quality outputs at its core.
  • Is built on a constructive relationship between the Executive, SHEFC and those in higher education, with regular formal and informal dialogue.
  • Explicitly recognises the importance of leaving space for institutions and the Scottish Funding Councils to innovate, with a Higher Education Funding Council that is willing and able to respond to progressive proposals from within the sector itself.
  • Values and supports closer dialogue and collaboration amongst key partners and beyond.

Starting point

We look to our higher education institutions to serve learners: helping people develop throughout their lives so that they play the fullest part they can in society and the economy. We also look to higher education to serve society: making a significant contribution to the health, wealth and culture of a thriving and creative Scotland. Scotland needs a higher education sector which achieves these aims by working as a community of diverse institutions, all contributing to the generation and transmission of knowledge and ideas through different combinations of high-quality teaching and research. The Executive wants the distinctive strengths of institutions to be valued and used, individually and collaboratively. It wants provision to be developed and delivered within a strategic framework of national priorities which is shaped in partnership with those within higher education.

Harnessing the full potential of the significant public investment in higher education to meet future challenges will require developing further the capacity for change and recognition of the drivers which influence decision-making and behaviours in institutions. Policy making needs to be informed by a better understanding of what motivates those studying and working in higher education.

The Scottish context

The overarching framework and priorities within which higher education and the higher education sector operate are those for lifelong learning. 1 These seek to achieve personal fulfilment and enterprise; employability and adaptability; active citizenship and social inclusion.

Higher education is also a significant contributor to growing businesses, better skills and global connections and so is inextricably linked with the achievement of the aims of a smart, successful Scotland. 2 Developments such as the establishment of Futureskills Scotland, learndirect scotland and Careers Scotland are important resources for students and those who work in the sector providing better and relevant information to inform decisions. Also, the outcome of the National Debate for Education 3 recognised the more connected context in which higher education in Scotland now operates and the importance of closer working across the providers of education to ease the transition for learners through the education system.

Teaching and Learning

Key challenges will be speeding the rate at which flexible and innovative provision is developed which: is responsive and relevant to the needs of learners, employers and the wider marketplace; fully contributes to the Executive's aspirations for lifelong learning and closing the opportunity gap; is high quality and operates efficiently.

In this report we consider:

  • Making best use of capacity
  • Enhancing quality
  • Relating supply to demand
  • Flexibility
  • Access and participation
  • Articulation and routeways
  • Graduate skills and employability
  • International markets.

Research and Knowledge Transfer

Key challenges will be: continuing to compete successfully for the best people in an increasingly competitive world; ensuring research plays an increasing part in Scotland's economic and social well-being, delivering the most gains possible for the Scottish economy and the quality of life. Some of the most exciting breakthroughs in research in the next decade are expected to be at the boundaries between disciplines, across the sciences, arts and humanities. The funding system needs to encourage exploration at these boundaries. Research and scholarship should also feed directly into the provision of teaching. We consider:

  • Investing wisely
  • Connectivity
  • Knowledge transfer.

Governance and Management

To achieve our vision for higher education, institutions will need to be well-managed and well-governed organisations which motivate, value and reward their staff. Leadership skills will be required at all levels and good management and business systems must be in place, while governing bodies have a key role in helping institutions develop their strengths, remain relevant and strategic in their thinking and planning, and be responsive to the needs of learners, employers, staff and wider society.

In this report we consider:

  • Governing bodies
  • Leadership and management
  • Collaboration and maximising the effective use of resources.


This review has not examined the overall level of funding available to the higher education sector in Scotland. Its focus has been on how government, the Funding Council and institutions can work together to make the most effective use of the resources already provided to the sector, to make sure that Scottish higher education responds to the needs of learners and succeeds in the future.

The Scottish Executive has increased its funding commitment to the higher education sector in real terms every year since devolution. 4 But with increased funding have come new demands and the external environment within which our HEIs operate is becoming more demanding and competitive.

In this report we consider:

  • Funding levels
  • Funding sources
  • Funding systems.

A further phase of this review will look at the longer term implications for Scotland of funding changes planned in England.


At the heart of this review has been an open dialogue with the Funding Council, a wide range of people involved in delivering higher education and other stakeholder organisations. We want this process to continue as we move forward, guided by a shared commitment to responsiveness, relevance, quality and coherence.