Post school education, research and skills development ecosystem - purpose and principles: scope and approach

Outlines the scope and approach that we will take to develop a clear purpose and set of principles for the post school education, research and skills development ecosystem. This work aligns with wider education reform that is underway.


A lifelong education, research and skills ecosystem that delivers for all people is critical to the future success of society and the economy. This is vital to ensure that everyone has the right skills, knowledge, values and attitudes to achieve their potential and to lead fulfilling lives, contributing to the wellbeing of their communities and the planet.

Our national and international context is changing rapidly with the:

  • shift to net zero 
  • acceleration of digital technologies including artificial intelligence and increasing automation 
  • imagining and understanding the post COVID-19 world, including its social, cultural and health legacy
  • national priorities, including on child poverty 
  • responding to the rising cost of living and having to think differently within tighter budgets
  • demographic changes and longer working lives resulting in increased demand for upskilling and reskilling throughout our lives

The time is right to consider what the role and purpose of the post school education and skills ecosystem is in responding to these challenges, rooted in our National Performance Framework and values. The ecosystem needs to be adaptable to the nature of the changing economy, world of work and lifelong learning as well as capitalising on existing strengths like the internationally renowned research that supports our global competitiveness.

As well as being central to the success of our economy, our education and skills ecosystem also plays a role in addressing key challenges facing our society such as poverty and climate change.

We must ensure its purpose and principles are aligned to tackling these challenges and support us in making the right choices.

We will:

  • develop a clear purpose and set of principles for the post school education, research, and skills ecosystem in Scotland. This will be evidence led and provide clear direction to support decision making across the ecosystem for the next generation
  • map and reflect the current and complex ecosystems involved and how they relate to what our economy and society need now and in future
  • explore the balance of responsibility and the role(s) that we expect everyone – including individuals, agencies, institutions, national and local decision makers, employers from the self-employed microbusiness to the multinational, public and third sector and all points in between – to play in the ecosystem

The purpose and principles will contribute to the wider National discussion on the future vision for education that is underway and will align to the overall vision of a successful education system for Scotland

We will deliver:

  • a succinct and easy to understand purpose and principles that can guide decision making across government at national, regional and local level, across our agencies and within institutions
  • a source of dependable evidence looking across all of the related ecosystems and identifying where further work needs to be done
  • a plan for implementation, connected to the Scottish Funding Council’s developing National Impact Framework

How it will be developed

Evidence and analysis

  • a significant amount of work has been produced in recent years examining the ecosystem from different angles, including in the development of the:
  • our agency partners Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council also hold large volumes of data and evidence that will underpin this work
  • the voice of young people has been captured through various mechanisms including the recent engagement on education reform undertaken by Professor Muir and stakeholders have additionally provided further evidence for consideration
  • trade unions and representative bodies including Colleges Scotland, Colleges Development Network and Universities Scotland have also published papers, manifestos and vision statements that form part of this base
  • we are building on strong foundations 
  • we will analyse the work that has been undertaken to date to validate and understand where we already have robust evidence and identify any key gaps. This will form the basis for our approach to consultation and engagement, highlighting central themes and issues to test with civic Scotland and the sector to seek to build consensus on the purpose and principles
  • we will ensure that this work takes account of related evidence reviews and analysis including e.g., that being taken forward to support the delivery of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, and the review of qualifications and assessment as well as evidence provided to the National Discussion on Education
  • we will also look outside of Scotland, recognising that our current ecosystems operate within a global context. We will build on existing connections through the development of our international education strategy and wider global networks. This will ensure that we are drawing on research and insight from around the world as we test our thinking about what will work for Scotland


  • our purpose must be informed by all of those who have the greatest stake in the ecosystem
  • the development of the purpose and principles must be a shared endeavour with learners, employers of all shapes and sizes from the public and private sector and parts of the economy and wider society who benefit most directly from the current ecosystems as well as the staff and leaders of the agencies and institutions who are responsible for delivery. We will also proactively seek out the views of those who choose not to engage
  • we will deliver this through consultative workshops and discussion groups using a reflective model to stimulate discussion and to test the big strategic questions we face including – how we can move beyond a false choice between academic and vocational pathways and accept and value both

This engagement has already begun. In their review Coherence and Sustainability: A Review of Tertiary Education and Research the Scottish Funding Council recommended that the Scottish Government should set out more clearly its overall strategic intent for tertiary education and research. The Scottish Government accepted this recommendation. We have been working with stakeholders including our agencies – Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council, organisations representing colleges and universities, young people, students, employers, workers and businesses on how we should develop the Purpose and Principles.

A number of consistent themes have emerged through our early discussions: 

Value what we have

Scotland has an internationally respected post school education, research, and skills system. This work should bring out and demonstrate that value, particularly the positively reinforcing cycle of internationally recognised research and teaching that spill over into our wider economy and society through innovation and entrepreneurship and contribute to Scotland’s continuing attractiveness as a place to live, work, study and invest.

Draw out examples of good practice

Where employers and institutions are collaborating across organisational boundaries and demonstrating leadership to deliver results. We should highlight more of what we want others to do. 

Start where we are and use what we have

We were consistently told to look at and build on all of the work that has gone before, identifying where there may be gaps, seeking to take a more targeted approach to consultation and engagement. This includes recognising consultation fatigue and seeking to join up or use existing networks to facilitate discussion and engagement in this work.

Recognise the challenges

Financial sustainability, cost of living and the forthcoming Resource Spending Review were at the forefront of many of our initial discussions. While this presents a challenging context it also provides an imperative for thinking differently and reimagining what the future could look like.

Be clear on the scope

We have made our ongoing commitment to free tuition clear; the Purpose and Principles will not revisit this.

There are also other policy choices that have been made and strategies set, including the SFC Review which the Government has responded to and the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, labour market policy on fair work and employability, careers advice and guidance, innovation, inward investment and the related work streams as part of the National Discussion on Education. While all of these will impact on the purpose and principles, this work will not seek to unpick decisions taken elsewhere in government. Instead, the purpose and principles will provide a clear framework for those inside and outside government about what they can expect the ecosystem to deliver in support of shared objectives, and the roles and responsibilities we all share to protect and enhance its productive capacity.

Talk to the unusual suspects

Whilst recognising that of course people who are part of the system will have a key role to play in informing its future, all early feedback was to ensure that we actively engage with people whose voices are not always heard. As well as those who have opted not to participate in any post school education, research or skills development this also includes small and micro businesses who can often feel their needs are not reflected.

Learn from others

We have been provided with lots of good examples of international comparators that we could learn from and plan to create an International Reference Group for this work that ensures we maintain a global outlook. 


 In all early discussions the message was that this work is the first step on a decade long journey of transformation. The need to think about how and who will lead the change was clear, as was the responsibility of government to develop this in partnership with others and to do so in a transparent way which is firmly rooted in practical financially sustainable change. 

Make the connections

It is clear that we are looking at multiple interrelated ecosystems spanning people’s experience of learning throughout life. At all points stakeholders have been clear that we need to be better at making the connections. A National Discussion on Education is underway including an upcoming consultation on proposals to streamline and improve the inspection and scrutiny landscape around early learning and childcare (ELC), the setting of strategic priorities for ELC, implementation of the Scottish Government’s response to Professor Muir’s report which proposed changes to the national landscape to support Curriculum for Excellence, a national discussion on the next steps in the evolution of the Curriculum for Excellence in our schools, work being led by Professor Louise Hayward on future design principles for qualifications and assessment and this work, to define the purpose and principles for our post school education, research and skills ecosystem.

All aspects of the National Discussion on Education need to relate to and be informed by one another. Where it is possible for us to join elements of the discussion together, we will do that. There will be no wrong door for participating in this discussion. While curriculum redesign and the future of qualifications and assessment are not in scope for this work, they are interdependent and so any information uncovered in the development of the Purpose and Principles will be passed on. All of our early engagement has reinforced the appetite for greater simplicity and coherence across all ages and stages of our lifelong learning journey. 

Who it is for and who needs to be involved in developing it 

  • young people and adults who have not participated in post school education – on what they need from the ecosystem and how it could better support them
  • students and learners (future, current and former), carers and parents, employers, and investors – on what they need and can expect from the ecosystem and how they can contribute to it
  • communities and regions –about the role of colleges, universities research and skills in their areas
  • national and local government; education and skills agencies, colleges and universities and their employees – on strategic direction and long-term planning
  • independent training providers, industry bodies, trade unions, research partners, business organisations and recruiters – who are invested in, contribute to and benefit from an aligned ecosystem

When we will develop it

Spring 2022 

We have:

  • discussed the proposed scope of work and approach with a range of internal and external stakeholders and sought views on our approach
  • begun our analysis of existing data and evidence to identify any gaps in our knowledge and areas for further exploration
  • Been developing communication and engagement plans along with supporting materials to enable the broadest range of consultation with civic Scotland and to enable stakeholders themselves to talk about this work
  • established an Education Reform Group within the Scottish Government to ensure that there is no wrong way to engage in the National Discussion on Education

Summer and autumn 2022 

We will:

  • synthesise evidence, publishing short topic papers, identifying key gaps and working with partners to prioritise additional analysis throughout the development of the purpose and principles
  • begin our series of consultative workshops drawing on learning from Scotland’s other community engagement and working with and through key stakeholders, aligning with the National Discussion on Education where possible and desirable
  • begin our analysis of evidence gathered from engagement
  • conclude our consultative workshops and publish the first cut of the draft purpose and principles

Winter 2022 to 2023

We will:

  • set out our draft purpose and principles based on a review of all the evidence and consultation 
  • begin a further round of consultation to test and refine these
  • plan for the implementation of the purpose and principles 

Spring 2023 

We will:

  • publish the purpose and principles


For further information and to be kept up to date with the latest developments 


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