I am proud of Scotland’s tertiary education and research system, which is amongst the best in the world. Our colleges, universities and small specialist institutions are real national assets that contribute across a range of social, economic and cultural impacts. They develop people to live fulfilling lives, equipped with the skills and talents Scotland needs; they are brimming with ideas, innovation and research that will shape our economic prosperity and recovery, our response to the climate emergency and our global reputation and networks; and they are anchor institutions that matter in local communities and our work in tackling deep-seated social inequalities and disadvantage. We invest over £1.9 billion each year in this system, educating over 500,000 students and employing 62,000 people direct. And we are proud that tertiary education is free for Scottish students who live here, securing opportunities for everyone to fulfil their potential. We will continue to put the interests of students and equal opportunity at the heart of tertiary education policy.
Over the last extraordinary 18 months, colleges and universities have been vital to our ability to survive the Covid-19 pandemic through world-leading collaborative research, practical solutions to combat the impact of the disease, and pivoting to support students, researchers and staff to keep learning, teaching and researching in the most challenging of times. While Covid-19 brought a profound shock to the system, the decades to come will bring further significant change at pace – shifts in automation, digital developments and artificial intelligence, changes in the world of work and study, global competition for talent and resources, responding to the climate emergency and our future demographic, health and social care needs.
To examine these challenges, we asked the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to review how it could best fulfil its mission of achieving coherence, quality and sustainability in tertiary education and research in these changing times. SFC’s report - Coherence and Sustainability: A Review of Tertiary Education and Research - was published at the end of June 2021.
I am grateful to the SFC for this thoughtful Review; the analysis that underpins the recommendations; the inclusive approach to evidence gathering and engagement; and the balance it has sought to achieve between ambition and pragmatism. We also extend our thanks to the sector and wider stakeholders who gave their time and insights to help shape the debate, including the expert contributions of the Cumberford-Little and Muscatelli Reports.
The Review itself is comprehensive and wide-ranging. It makes a compelling case for continued, evolutionary, whole-system change that builds from existing strengths, recognises Scotland’s particular context and policy drivers, and signals opportunities to work towards a responsive, coherent education and skills system, while sustaining research and knowledge exchange for the future.
The Scottish Government broadly accept the Review’s recommendations. We have made some early decisions that set an important context. We recognise that, given the breadth of recommendations, some require a Scottish Government lead, others are for SFC and its Board to consider further, while we expect the sector itself to respond across a number of key areas. In addition, some recommendations will require further development for consultation. In some instances, the pace, scale and timing of implementation will be determined by wider spending and resource considerations. In all areas, it will be important that we work together to design the delivery of the recommendations for improvement and change.
As a government, our ambition is to create the best possible environment for colleges and universities, students and employers to thrive, now and into the future. I look forward to working with you to achieve our ambitions for Scotland’s tertiary education and research system.