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


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

2 Roles and Relationships

Our 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 Scotland's investment in higher education to meet future challenges will require:

  • developing further capacity for change - within and by individual institutions, and in the system as a whole;
  • recognising the range, complexity and changing nature of external and internal drivers for change which influence decision-making and behaviour in institutions.

Our higher education institutions will need to be innovative, responsive and adaptable to meet the needs of learners, society and the economy in the future. They should have the confidence and support to experiment and to develop their strengths. The diversity which already exists amongst institutions should be a strength which makes it easier, not harder, to deliver agreed national priorities across the sector as a whole, and to develop collaborative working within and across disciplines and institutions, wherever there are benefits to be gained.

Roles and relationships

We need a clear definition and understanding of the bodies who will be key to the interpretation, communication, delivery, review and evaluation of the priorities for higher education in Scotland as well as a clear understanding of the relationships between these bodies.

Higher education is delivered by our institutions, not by government departments or funding bodies. Higher education institutions are autonomous bodies whose independent status protects their ability to be challenging and creative in delivering teaching and research. But government, funding bodies and other national organisations all play a critical role in setting the broad context for the work of universities and colleges.

In Scotland, the key relationships are between the Scottish Executive (SE), the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) and higher education institutions (HEIs). Essential partners within Scotland are the Scottish Further Education Funding Council (SFEFC) and Further Education colleges (FECs) - especially those that deliver higher education courses (which currently account for around a quarter of those undertaking some form of higher education), and the Enterprise bodies - Scottish Enterprise (SEn) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The Executive believes that right at the heart of policy making for higher education needs to be a real understanding of what motivates those studying and working in higher education - so that we work successfully to meet the aspirations of students and staff.

There have been significant changes in the roles and relationships in higher education over the last few years - not least with devolution - and there will be more changes ahead. 5 However policy develops, and structures and remits change, we think there are some things which should be fundamental to the way relationships operate between government, funding council and institutions. These are:

  • greater clarity in the goals set by the Executive for higher education and more focused reporting by SHEFC on the performance of the sector against these national priorities and targets;
  • even greater emphasis on continuous enhancement of quality and on innovation and flexibility;
  • acknowledgement of informed student demand as the preferred driver of the type and pattern of higher education provision;
  • a significant move towards more
    co-ordinated decision-making by institutions, structured communication, sharing of information and good practice, identification of opportunities for collaboration, and for the development or reorganisation of provision;
  • a proactive role for the Funding Council in stimulating strategic decision-making in the sector and working closely with the Scottish Executive to ensure that higher education policy is well-informed;
  • a key role for the Funding Council in facilitating and influencing at a strategic level the relationships between the Scottish Executive, the higher education sector, employers and enterprise.

Within this model, the Scottish Executive will:

Set high-level priorities.

Set the overall financial settlement for SHEFC.

Identify clear targets for the sector as a whole and monitor their achievement.

Be clear about what are the fundamentals expected of all institutions.

Ensure that higher education policy in Scotland takes account of wider developments in Scotland, the UK and internationally.

Stimulate improvements in informed learner demand through bodies such as Careers Scotland, learndirect scotland and the provision of data.

Provide information to inform decision-making by learning providers such as that produced by Futureskills Scotland and the Sector Skills Councils.

Have coherent and effective mechanisms for identifying and prioritising individual Executive departments' specific teaching and research needs and discussing these with SHEFC.

The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council will:

Continue with its core financial distribution and monitoring functions, seeking continuous quality enhancement, and the development of adaptive systems.

Provide active leadership, facilitating discussions between institutions, stimulating strategic decision-making across the sector and supporting the sector in adapting to change.

Work with institutions to establish a framework for delivering national priorities within which individual institutions can plan their own contributions.

Work with the Executive and other stakeholders to develop appropriate specific targets for the sector, review and develop new systems for measuring performance where needed and report regularly on the performance of the sector in priority areas, including international benchmarking.

Link with other national agencies.

Advise the Executive on issues relating to higher education.

SHEFC's Strategic Dialogue Process is a new agreement between SHEFC, Chairs and Principals of HEIs and Universities Scotland, which offers an opportunity for the sector to employ its knowledge and expertise collectively to develop coherent sector strategies. Early priorities have been identified as: Leadership & Management; e-learning; Widening participation; Excellence in Teaching and Knowledge Transfer. Discussions under this process will inform policy making as well as supporting individual HEIs in drawing up their own strategic plans. www.shefc.ac.uk/content/library/press/2002/prhe0602.htm

Individual higher education institutions will:

Transmit, extend and challenge existing knowledge and ideas through high quality teaching and research.

Focus on high quality delivery in all areas, to provide learners with a positive learning experience.

Be well-governed and well-managed organisations.

Plan strategically, recognising and developing their strengths.

Regularly review the relevance of their activities to ensure they are responsive to the needs of learners, employers and other stakeholders, and to the policy framework set by the Executive.

Actively engage with the wider community.

Work with other organisations - including further education colleges - to maximise the opportunities available to learners, particularly through articulation and progression, and the potential of research.

Be accountable for the funding invested in them both publicly and privately, and maintain public confidence in the value of their output.

Taking this framework as its starting point, and recognising the changing environment in which higher education operates and where we are now, this paper sets out the developments the Executive believes will be needed over the next decade in:

  • Teaching and Learning
  • Research and Knowledge Transfer
  • Governance and Management.

It also considers some aspects of funding and suggests further work on that theme.

Before turning to the plans for the future, the next section assesses where we start from.


Most aspects of higher education are devolved - the Scottish Parliament can legislate, core funding comes from the Scottish Executive and the fundamental policy framework is set in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has already shown a strong interest in higher education - most recently through the work of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee. 6

Against that background, the Scottish sector retains important links with the rest of the UK. There is considerable movement of students and staff around the UK, and further afield - enriching the mix in our higher education institutions, to Scotland's benefit. Day-to-day links are formed between students, staff and institutions, and the sector itself chooses to organise many functions and activities on a UK-wide basis - allowing Scotland to draw on the benefits of a larger scale where that is useful. One critically important activity directly concerned with higher education is reserved - the UK Research Councils from which Scottish institutions gain significant funding under the "dual support" system. 7

In taking forward its ambitions for higher education in Scotland, the Scottish Executive is committed to working constructively with the other administrations within the UK on higher education policy, as part of its wider approach to lifelong learning.