Crichton University Campus

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 1:03 pm on 22nd March 2007.

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Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour 1:03 pm, 22nd March 2007

I do not envisage the University of Glasgow's not being present on the campus. There is a danger in the member's point that he may be arguing that provision from the University of Paisley and Bell College is inferior to that which is provided by other academic institutions. The University of Glasgow is a prestigious academic institution, but I do not believe that its provision is higher quality than that which is provided by other academic institutions.

The Deputy First Minister and I met a cross-party delegation from Dumfries and Galloway Council and representatives of the Crichton campus on 22 February. Following that helpful meeting, I discussed Crichton with the chair of the Scottish funding council and the principal of the University of Glasgow. Earlier this week, I met the principal of the University of Glasgow and the chief executive of the Scottish funding council, which is what I gave a commitment to do at the previous debate on this issue. At that meeting, the principal confirmed the university's commitment to its involvement in development of the academic strategy for the region. The university has written to its staff at Crichton indicating that there will be no fundamental change in its staffing in 2007-08. The university has also made no decision at this time on its undergraduate provision at Crichton beyond 2007-08 and is continuing to deliver its social work and initial teacher training courses.

In respect of student places for 2007-08, the Scottish funding council has confirmed that it is willing to fund additional places at Crichton for the University of Paisley and Bell College. As I mentioned earlier, the merger provides new opportunities to enhance existing provision both in subject availability and level. The Open University has also indicated that it may be able to offer liberal-arts provision. Discussions on those areas continue to be taken forward by the Scottish funding council. As Alex Fergusson mentioned—I know other members have been involved in discussions—it may be possible to establish new postgraduate provision in the region. I fully support that development and expect the funding council to do all in its powers to help to take it forward. I discussed that with partners on Monday, and my officials continue to progress the matter with the sector, including with the University of Glasgow.

I am sure that members will agree that those are welcome developments since we last debated the issue. I agree with Alasdair Morgan that development of the academic strategy is fundamental to maintaining the important role of Crichton and to continuing and enhancing the level of provision there. It is absolutely fundamental that the people in that area are wholly engaged in developing their local academic strategy. The first meeting on development of the academic strategy took place at the beginning of March and I welcome the funding council's proposal that the strategy should be prepared by late spring. It is important that the strategy be made available as soon as possible to enable it to inform the planning that is being taken forward by the academic partners and other stakeholders. It should—I believe that it will—provide a shared vision for the future and identify the academic programmes that will best serve the needs of the people of Dumfries and Galloway and its wider economy.

I close by re-emphasising the Executive's continuing support for the Crichton campus. We recognise fully what it has achieved to date for the south-west, and we want to ensure that it is able to develop, to grow, to provide the range of courses that are best suited to the area, as determined by local people in their local academic development strategy, and to provide access to those courses.