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This report provides an account of the distinctive assets of the Scottish higher education sector. The research included interviews with senior staff (academic and administrative) at member institutions of Universities Scotland, Scottish education related organisations and international education professionals. The interviews were supplemented by data analysis and a review of government documents and secondary sources.
The terms of reference (Appendix F) required an analysis of comparative strengths vis-à-vis the rest of the UK, Europe and beyond. The goal was an accessible evidence base of national-level assets to promote the existing and potential contributions of Scottish universities. The end result is partly a celebration of Scottish higher education and, to some extent, a critique.
Five distinctive assets were identified:
- A joined-up and collaborative sector, helped by its modest size and a Scottish ethos of education as a public good. Evidence for this includes innovations in teaching, Scottish research pools, a collaborative approach to quality assurance, the current funding regime, a no-fees policy for undergraduates, and positive attitudes to the European Higher Education Area. It is strongly felt that working in partnership is ‘part of the DNA of the Scottish sector’.
- Quality assurance and credit recognition procedures that are owned by all Scottish universities. ‘Enhancement Themes’, an initiative of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA Scotland), place learner benefit at the centre of considerations. The themes promote life-long learning and support both student mobility and articulation from the college sector.
- Graduate employability and employment. Linkages between the higher education sector, business, industry and public-sector employers are strong. This is reflected in the high levels of graduate employment, the applied nature of many degree programmes, industry input to teaching, work placements and industry commissioned research.
- Innovative structures and pedagogy. New approaches to teaching and learning include flexible learning opportunities for students in remote locations, specialist postgraduate programmes that build on research pool expertise and responses to the specific needs of business and industry
- Research impact. Scottish research pools constitute an innovative approach to research collaboration that leverages excellence to concentrate activity and stimulate collaboration between universities (both domestically and internationally). Scottish universities secure high levels of research funding from the UK Research Councils and are also successful in forming spinoff companies.