Crichton University Campus

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:49 pm on 22nd March 2007.

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Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green 12:49 pm, 22nd March 2007

I congratulate Alasdair Morgan on securing today's debate. It is important that we have another debate on the subject because, although it has been only five weeks since we raised our concerns in the original debate, in that time we have seen very little positive progress from the Executive, a lack of successful and visible action and a lack of backbone in the discussions with the funding council and the University of Glasgow. The Executive has shown a lack of commitment to the Crichton and a lack of results.

Right at the heart of the matter is the lack of a national strategy for higher education throughout Scotland. We do not need an academic strategy for Dumfries and Galloway; we need an academic strategy for rural Scotland. We need a world in which £15 million does not go to the university of the Highlands and Islands when the Crichton receives only £1 million. We need a proper, thought-out strategy so that we may analyse and put on record the key role that is played by further and higher education institutions in rural areas and the support that they give to the economic and social needs of those areas through research based on local issues, as happens at the Crichton; through engagement with local practitioners, as happens at the Crichton; and through vocational teaching to strengthen the local structure of relevant services and professions, the sharing of facilities and the building of the local economy.

The achievements of the Crichton are many. It delivers into the local economy expertise in key services, such as renewable energy and tourism. It widens participation—as Alasdair Morgan mentioned, 56 per cent of the student intake consists of students who are the first in their family to go to university. That is a proud and important achievement of the Crichton, which we lose at our peril.

The Crichton puts Dumfries and Galloway on the map by attracting international students from more than 20 countries and it brings internationally rated research to the region. Like Alex Fergusson, I have been informed about the new type of institution at the Crichton that will be announced next week. It will be a cross between a business school and a research centre and it will work with local energy consultancy companies and voluntary organisations, such as the Southern Uplands Partnership. I trust that the minister will be able at least to support that initiative and to support research and development, postgraduate work and taught courses at the Crichton.

We have heard much from ministers about supporting the Crichton. We heard Jim Wallace say in 2004:

"The Crichton campus in Dumfries has proven to be a positive model of collaboration between HE and FE institutions which has successfully worked with local partners to widen access to those in the area who would not otherwise have experienced higher education."

Jim Wallace continued:

"I would look to the Council to continue to support this type of cross sectoral initiative."

I say to the minister that those have turned out to be empty words and rhetoric, with no positive action flowing from them. He is in danger of losing this flagship development, whose value his Executive has trumpeted.

I have two questions for the minister that flow from today's debate and the previous members' business debate. What has the minister done since Elaine Murray's debate to achieve the success that he was positive he would be able to achieve? What will the minister do over the next 10 days to ensure that he secures a positive result before dissolution?