Crichton Campus

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Education and Lifelong Learning – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 21st June 2007.

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Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative 2:15 pm, 21st June 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it would accept an academic strategy for the Crichton campus in Dumfries that did not include the continued participation of the University of Glasgow or included a reduced role for the university. (S3O-268)

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I support the work to develop the academic strategy, which will inform future actions to achieve sustainable provision that meets the academic and economic needs of the area. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and the Scottish Executive continue to work closely and urgently with all the academic partners who are involved in developing the strategy, including the University of Glasgow.

I met the Scottish funding council and the principal of the University of Glasgow on 4 June to progress the interests of students and potential students at the Crichton campus. In developing the strategy, a number of options are being explored to build on existing provision at the campus and to develop new provision.

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

The First Minister will have received yesterday a petition urging that the University of Glasgow continue its participation. In a written answer to me, the cabinet secretary said

"The Scottish Executive is an active member of the group working to produce the academic strategy."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 6 June 2007; S3W-109.]

Is it too much to ask whether the Executive thinks that it is acceptable for that strategy to include a diminished or non-existent role for the University of Glasgow?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am sure that, like me, the member respects the independence of academic institutions such as universities. The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 makes it clear that it is not within the gift of ministers to direct universities, which are independent institutions, to carry out particular academic strategies. However, we are contributing to the strategy and I am committed to ensuring that we provide the best opportunities that we can provide at the Crichton campus. I will use my influence as much as I can to get the best result. I ask the member to bear with me; I am pursuing the case vigorously.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I wish to press the minister further. Has the Scottish funding council allocated any additional funding to the University of Glasgow to enable it to continue its undergraduate provision at Crichton? Have any additional fully-funded higher education places been allocated to the Crichton campus? Has the University of Glasgow agreed to revoke its suspension of undergraduate admissions? Bearing in mind the fact that the academic strategy was under development at the end of last year, has any progress been made on the aforementioned issues since the debates in February and March?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Yes, significant progress has been made but I am not at liberty to talk about the detail at this stage. When I can, I will. I know that Elaine Murray, the Presiding Officer and many others in the chamber have an interest in the issue.

There is an issue that involves the other partners in the Crichton campus and progressing the funding of additional places. It is essential for the overall development of the Crichton campus that we move on the academic strategy, which has several strands. We are all aware of other issues, particularly that involving the University of Glasgow. I ask members to be patient; I reiterate that I am actively pursuing those issues.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Does the minister agree that any academic strategy that does not cater for higher education courses in non-science subjects would be unacceptable to the people of the south-west of Scotland? Further, given that such courses have been introduced, does she agree that it would be even more unacceptable for them to be taken away?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Members are free to express their views on that, and from the petition that was received this week, I know that what Mr Morgan said is true. We can try to ensure that the strategic direction of higher education, as steered and led by the Executive, reflects the opportunities that should be provided to people in all parts of Scotland, regardless of geography or deprivation, so that current and future students can access the type of course that they deserve.