Crichton University Campus

Enterprise, Lifelong Learning and Transport – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 1st March 2007.

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. Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will meet the Scottish funding council and the University of Glasgow to discuss the latter's presence at the Crichton campus in Dumfries. (S2O-12159)

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

The Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning had a discussion with the chair of the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council last week and met the principal of the University of Glasgow on 23 February 2007.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that answer, but it is a pity that he could not tell us what conclusions were reached at the meetings. Does he share the view of the overwhelming majority of people in Dumfries and Galloway that the presence of the University of Glasgow at the Crichton has been an essential part of the campus's success thus far and should be a vital part of its future success? If so, what steps will he take to ensure that that presence continues?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I understand the strength of feeling on the issue. Allan Wilson and I met a cross-party delegation from Dumfries and Galloway Council and representatives of the Crichton campus. The decision by the court of the University of Glasgow to withdraw its main liberal arts degrees from the Crichton campus is clearly an issue of great concern. I am pleased that the university, along with the other Crichton campus partners and the Scottish funding council, is to be involved in the development of an academic strategy. It is an encouraging sign that the University of Glasgow will continue to offer initial teacher education and social work at Crichton, but that still leaves a significant gap. I gave a clear undertaking to the cross-party delegation that Allan Wilson and I would be involved in discussions with the Scottish funding council, the University of Glasgow and the partners at Crichton to try to arrive at a more satisfactory solution.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I hope that the Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning used his private meeting with Sir Muir Russell to emphasise the views of all interested parties on the importance of the University of Glasgow's continued presence at the Crichton. I seek an assurance from the minister that the round-table meetings between the Executive, the Scottish funding council and the University of Glasgow will be progressed as soon as possible, as promised during the members' business debate on the subject, and that stakeholders will be kept informed of progress, especially any reversal of the decision by the University of Glasgow to suspend student recruitment this year. Staff and prospective students will need to be apprised as soon as possible of any changes of policy by the university.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I realise the urgency of the situation and agree with Elaine Murray that it is vital for us to move quickly on the issue. I am aware that the approach that we have taken to higher education funding in Scotland over the past few years, which led to the establishment of the single Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and a change in the relationship between the funding council and ministers, means that ministers do not have powers to intervene directly either with the funding council or with the University of Glasgow, but I hope that we can be influential in the matter. In any case, we should be involved. Along with Dumfries and Galloway Council and other elected representatives, we are determined to act urgently. We can all play a role in finding a satisfactory solution to a very difficult problem. Today I make a commitment to do so.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

The minister mentioned the academic strategy. Does he agree that, unless the University of Glasgow can be persuaded, cajoled or influenced to reverse its decision not to have an intake of students from the Crichton campus in September, such a strategy will barely be worth the paper that it is written on?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I agree that that is one of the key issues that must be discussed as soon as possible. The fact that the University of Glasgow wishes to be involved in the development of the academic strategy is a good sign; I hope that we can build on that.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green

Given that the minister understands the issues, appreciates the strength of feeling and has undertaken to discuss and to attempt to resolve the situation, will he tell us whether, following his meetings with the funding council and the University of Glasgow, he expects success or failure? If he expects success, when should we expect an announcement?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I always go into discussions with a positive attitude and determined to achieve a positive outcome.