23.1 Our terms of reference relate to the whole of the United Kingdom (UK) and our recommendations are intended to be of general application. We are, however, conscious of the distinctive needs and traditions of higher education in different parts of the UK and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will wish to consider the extent to which they need to be modified to meet the circumstances of those countries.

23.2 The provision in Northern Ireland and Wales corresponds, in the main, to that in England, but bearing in mind the distinctive nature of the education structure and qualifications systems, the legal framework, and the administrative funding arrangements in Scotland, Ministers agreed that we should establish a Scottish Committee to consider issues particular to Scotland and to advise us accordingly. The report of the Scottish Committee is published as part of this report in a separate volume.

23.3 No such special arrangements were thought necessary for Wales and Northern Ireland, but it quickly became apparent that there was a major issue of long term concern in relation to Northern Ireland, namely the need for 40 per cent of young people from the Province to look for higher education elsewhere. With the help of Sir George Quigley we have produced an appendix (Appendix 1) commenting in detail on the particular issues that arise in that part of the UK.

23.4 Here we summarise some distinctive characteristics of the provision of higher education in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Before looking at each of these in turn, we identify those features they have in common and which differentiate them from England. The first of these, as we noted in Chapter 12, is the extent to which institutions in these countries have close links with their local and regional communities, both economically and more widely. We have suggested that this stronger regional engagement reflects: the size of the community; a strong national regional identity; distinctive administrative structures; well-developed and supported agencies with economic development objectives; and the provision of funding related to the achievement of these objectives. In England, the extent of regional identity is generally less than in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, and the development agencies have a much smaller role.

23.5 The relatively small number of institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland makes for a close relationship between them, fostered by a sense of identity and a clear perception of their ability to contribute to each country’s wellbeing, both culturally and economically. There are rivalries between institutions, but the personal relationships that are fostered by the smallness of their number leads to the identification of the benefits of collaboration and a willingness to exploit them. It would be wrong to make sharply distinctive generalisations, but the sense of community is a relevant element in the way institutions relate to regional issues and to one another.

23.6 Another distinguishing feature is the way in which teacher education is delivered. In England a distinctive feature is the existence of the Teacher Training Agency, which has responsibility for funding initial teacher training provision in higher education. Its remit does not extend to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and we do not propose that it should. Yet another distinguishing feature is to be found in the arrangements for funding and we believe that continuing differences are justified by the relative scale of the task in England.


23.7 There are now 23 institutions of higher education in Scotland, including 13 universities, 9 colleges and the Open University. Four of the universities in Scotland are over 400 years old and many of the others trace their origins to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The higher education sector has approximately 160,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students, with institutions ranging in size from the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde which each have over 16,000 FTE students to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama which has only 400 FTE students. Institutions also vary widely in their provision at undergraduate level, with Medicine and Dentistry being pursued only in the pre-1992 universities, and the largest proportion of business and administration programmes being studied in the 1992 universities. Over a quarter of all higher education provision in Scotland is provided by the further education sector, mostly at sub-degree level.

23.8 The most distinctive feature of Scottish higher education is the provision made for breadth in post-compulsory education and the tradition of students being able to enter higher education one year earlier than in other parts of the United Kingdom, although many choose instead to stay at school for an additional year. In comparison with the two to three A levels usually taking two years elsewhere, in Scotland students will often take up to five or six Highers after one year. This breadth at school articulates with the provision of higher education itself, where it is possible to study for a broad-based three year ordinary degree, or for a more specialised degree awarded after four years of study.

23.9 The emphasis on breadth means that entry to many higher education institutions is to the faculty, rather than to the subject, with students choosing to specialise only at the end of their second year. This flexibility means that students can change subject more easily than elsewhere in the UK.

23.10 The distinctive articulation between secondary and higher education is one of the reasons why 95 per cent of Scottish full-time undergraduates under the age of 21 choose to stay in Scotland. Given that 12,700 students from the rest of the UK also enter Scottish institutions, Scotland is an overall net importer of students.

23.11 As we noted in Chapter 6, the participation rate is high. At 44.2 per cent in 1995/96, this is much higher than in England, and we have taken this as an indication of what could be achieved across the UK as a whole. We have also noted as relevant to developments in the rest of the UK that most of the recent expansion in Scotland was at sub degree level in the Higher National Certificate and the Higher National Diploma.

23.12 The relatively small size of the sector, and the close co-operation which this engenders, has enabled the development of the Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme, to which all the Scottish higher education institutions are signatories. In Chapter 10 we recommended the development of a framework of qualifications. We hope that in time, the framework will become truly national, but recognise that in the short term the distinctiveness of education in Scotland will require some differences in approach.

23.13 As already noted, institutions in all three countries have strong links with their regions. In Scotland this has its roots in history. In contrast to most of the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland has benefited from having universities in its main centres of population for several centuries. Since the industrial revolution they have contributed to economic development and they have long-standing links with their local communities.


23.14 Welsh higher education represents roughly five per cent of the higher education sector in the UK and corresponds with the percentage of the UK’s population resident in Wales. The pattern of education is broadly similar to that in England, with the three year undergraduate honours degree forming the core. Its character is heavily influenced by the cross-border flows of students, with approximately half of the student population in Welsh institutions coming from England. This is mirrored by a similar proportion of those domiciled in Wales, who enter higher education, doing so outside Wales. Overall, Wales is marginally a net gainer.

23.15 Historically, Welsh higher education does not have the ancient foundations of England or Scotland: its first institution – St David’s College, Lampeter – was established in 1827. Only in 1893 was an independent university with its own charter established, formed from the college at Aberystwyth and colleges at Bangor and Cardiff, as a federal institution – the University of Wales. The federal university, sometimes seen as a symbol of national identity, is now composed of eight institutions. Until the advent of the Open University in 1970 and the granting of university status to the Polytechnic of Wales, which became the University of Glamorgan in 1992, no other university existed within the Principality.

23.16 In relation to the size of the population, Welsh institutions are relatively numerous, although they tend to be small. This means that there is a higher education institution in almost every region, contributing significantly to the culture, language, economy and society of the areas in which they lie. One consequence of their relatively small size is a good level of collaboration and integration between institutions. The so-called ‘University of the Valleys’ is a prime example of collaborative effort to promote access in the valleys and opportunities for adult learners from some of the most socially and economically disadvantaged communities in Britain.

23.17 The location of institutions in small towns and rural areas means that they have a very significant impact on their local economies, and they are in some cases the largest employer in the area. The local economy is more dependent on their continuing existence than might commonly be the case elsewhere. Their location also makes them dependent on receiving students from outside the immediate vicinity. This means that much of the full-time higher education is fully residential. As a result, Welsh higher education institutions are especially vulnerable to changes in student support arrangements which might encourage full-time students to study closer to home. This is a consideration we took into account in framing our recommendations in Chapter 20.

23.18 Funding per student provided by the Welsh Office to Welsh higher education in 1997-98 was lower than that in England, and very significantly lower than that in Scotland, despite the call on funds as a result of Welsh language requirements. Past research performance of Welsh institutions has fallen below the rest of the UK, but recent support from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) resulted in better outcomes in the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise. Given the importance of research to attracting inward investment and encouraging indigenous economic growth, there is a desire to increase the volume of the research base in Wales.

23.19 The manufacturing sector makes a proportionately greater contribution to Welsh Gross Domestic Product than in other parts of the UK, and small and medium sized enterprises play a larger role in sustaining the economic and employment base.1 Both of these characteristics of the economy affect the way institutions interact with industry, as does the existence of a range of regional bodies which encourage partnership with industry to provide training, development, consultancy support and research which can contribute towards the economic prosperity of Wales.

23.20 Wales is culturally distinct, most notably in having two working languages, English and Welsh, and a separate Welsh language television channel (S4C). It is also reflected in the existence of BBC (Wales), the Welsh National Opera Company, the Welsh Arts Council, the National Library of Wales, the National Museum of Wales, and other national institutions.

23.21 Higher education has a major role in sustaining the Welsh language, literature and culture, through research and scholarship. Through programmes in the Welsh language and literature, and through Welsh-medium provision, for which the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales has set aside substantial sums of money, it helps ensure that the Welsh economy has sufficient Welsh language speakers to meet the requirements of the Welsh Language Act. Welsh higher education institutions have developed programmes ranging from television production to graphic arts and from computer aided design to creative writing to support the rapidly growing Welsh media industries.

23.22 The Welsh Language Act establishes the right of individuals to communicate in the language of their choice. Higher education institutions are required to make appropriate provision to meet this need, for example by employing Welsh speakers, having translating facilities and providing dual language publications. These requirements and the Welsh-medium provision both have cost implications which need to be reflected in funding regimes.

23.23 The complementarity of higher and further education in Wales represents an area of particular interest in the light of developments in recent years. The Further and Higher Education Funding Councils are served by a single Chief Executive who, together with his staff working as a joint executive, serves both Councils. Although the two Councils are provided with separate budgets and pursue their own policies under the guidance of the Secretary of State, it has been possible to develop common approaches in terms of the relationships of the councils with their respective institutions and in terms of strategies for working with industry. The two councils have common processes for monitoring the financial health of institutions and for audit and work within common operational standards. The chief executive and his staff are able to represent both sectors in discussion on, for example, economic development and training support. This has proved particularly important in providing support for major investors from overseas. The two Welsh councils, from their joint executive, can address the whole range of further and higher education support for industry.

23.24 It is noteworthy that both Councils distribute funds, wholly or in part, on the basis of the credits for which students work. This makes the emergence of a single all-Wales post-16 credit framework a distinct possibility. The Higher Education Credit Initiative – Wales produced the first such UK agreed system of cross-institutional arrangements for accreditation.

23.25 A particular feature of post-16 education in Wales is the franchising arrangements with further education colleges for the delivery of higher education provision, where the funding comes through the higher education institution. The development of franchised provision was given particular encouragement by the Wales Advisory Board in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a policy which was endorsed by both councils in 1992, and which has led to substantial growth in part-time sub-degree vocational provision in Wales from 1,864 enrolments in 1992/93 to 3,387 enrolments in 1996/97. This in turn has fostered fruitful relationships between higher education institutions and further education colleges, which form the basis for initiatives designed to increase access to higher education and bring it closer to the work place. We do not intend that Recommendation 67 in Chapter 22 should prevent the continuation of this pattern of higher education within further education colleges in Wales.

23.26 Finally we note that in the delivery of initial teacher training (ITT), the Welsh institutions do not share some of the current concerns of those in England. The compactness of the sector helps all those involved to work together in the spirit of partnership, for example through the ‘All Wales Higher Education ITT liaison group’. The funding for ITT is channelled together with the rest of the funding for higher education through the HEFCW, which the institutions see as a distinct advantage.

Northern Ireland

23.27 Higher education in the Province is provided by two universities (which in their distinctive missions exemplify the diversity of higher education), by two colleges of education and, to varying degrees, in the region’s 17 institutes of further education. Programmes in the institutes of further education are predominantly vocational. Northern Ireland also constitutes a region of the Open University. Student enrolments total 40,000. 32,000 of these are registered with its two universities. Some 85 per cent of the students enrolled at the two universities come from Northern Ireland.

23.28 Northern Ireland differs fundamentally from other parts of the UK in its lack of sufficient higher education places within easy reach of students. In 1995, students domiciled in Northern Ireland and accepted for university entrance constituted 3.5 per cent of all accepted UK applicants, but Northern Ireland provides only 2.1 per cent of the university places. The age participation rate in Northern Ireland (at around 42 per cent) is, as in Scotland, high but there are only 0.62 places per accepted applicant, whereas Scotland has 1.18.

23.29 We believe that students can benefit from study in a different environment and it is right that those who wish to study outside Northern Ireland should be free to do so. A considerable proportion of the 40 per cent of students who now study away do not, however, do this from choice but because the limitation on the number of places and the relatively high standard of entry to the two local universities obliges them to do so. Many of those obliged to study away from home will be from lower income groups, who can least afford the additional expenditure which this will entail. This is an undesirable situation, given the importance we attach to wider participation in Chapter 7.

23.30 We recognise that there are also areas of England, for example Cornwall and Cumbria, with a low number of places per accepted applicant. However, we believe that the geographical separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK makes the issue particularly important.

23.31 The exceptionally high proportion of students in Northern Ireland that need to go elsewhere for their higher education leads us in Appendix 1 to recommend the examination of options which would increase the provision of places in a cost-effective way and which involve no compromising of quality or standards.

23.32 Northern Ireland is also different in the way its economic and social life is affected by the acute divisions which impair its ability to reach its full economic potential. Whilst it has a vigorous small and medium sized enterprise sector, it is characterised by having very few large enterprises, few of whose headquarters are in the Province. Inward investment is keenly sought but, with notable exceptions, can be deterred by the outsider’s perception of a region which is disturbed and unstable. This challenging context offers higher education institutions the opportunity, to which they have not been slow to respond, to acquire a distinctive regional role.

23.33 In Chapter 9 we recommended that students should be given more opportunity to pursue programmes characterised by breadth rather than depth, and we pointed out that this has implications for the nature of the school curriculum for 16-19 year olds, and for the admissions policies of universities. Northern Ireland could provide an appropriate place for schools and universities to pioneer collaborative projects involving the schools and colleges. We, therefore, encourage the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to consider adopting the breadth plus depth approach recommended in the Dearing Report on 16-19 year olds as one of the bases for entrance to universities in Northern Ireland.

23.34 A distinctive characteristic of the research scene in the Province is the large contribution which universities make to the total research effort. This reflects the size and nature of the industrial base and the absence of any other significant research capabilities. The universities, through their research and their support for small to medium sized enterprises in particular, can help strengthen that base.

23.35 Unfortunately as a result of cuts announced following the last public expenditure round, the universities in the current year will have 16 per cent less and, in subsequent years, 24 per cent less available for research through the block grant, as a result of the progressive reduction in the NIDevR component. Given the implications for the universities and the strategic economic significance of a strong research capability, we recommend in Appendix 1 that the scale and nature of funding for research in Northern Ireland universities should be assessed.

23.36 The case for regarding higher education, wherever it is delivered, as an integrated tertiary sector is particularly strong in Northern Ireland. The sector is relatively small and identifying the opportunities for co-operation to mutual benefit should be relatively easy. Our recommendations in Chapter 10 on the framework of qualifications and a Credit Accumulation and Transfer System are germane to the smooth functioning of a tertiary sector, and to the construction of well signposted pathways into and through it. Machinery is needed to ensure that all the relevant interests can participate in devising a strategy for a tertiary sector which plays a significant regional role. Unlike Great Britain, there are no intermediary funding bodies in Northern Ireland. The universities are at present funded directly by the Department of Education Northern Ireland and the institutes of further education by the Education and Library Boards. We made recommendations about the creation of intermediary bodies in Chapter 22 and Appendix 1.

23.37 We have also noted the differences in the approach to teacher education and training, and in particular the high average A level points of those who enrol on these programmes in Northern Ireland. The Department of Education Northern Ireland is currently putting in place an integrated, three stage process of teacher education which embraces initial training, induction and the early years of continuing professional development. At the end of initial training all teachers are given a ‘career-entry profile’, on the basis of which their induction and in-service training can be planned. Such arrangements should facilitate the development of genuine partnerships between employers, schools and higher education institutions.

23.38 Northern Ireland, as the smallest part of the UK, is an area in which it may be particularly opportune to innovate and pioneer. Within its institutions there are already to be found admirable examples of best practice and forward thinking which go with the grain of much of what we propose in this Report. We believe that the tertiary sector has the potential to expand successfully to meet a greater proportion of local need and to play an increasingly effective regional role.


23.39 Our report is intended to apply to the whole of the UK. We are conscious that there are notable differences between the regions of England, and that some of the problems of provision of higher education that we identified in Northern Ireland apply to some counties of England. We thought it right to recognise in particular the distinctive elements of higher education in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each of which have distinctive histories and form part of the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State for their parts of the UK. In taking forward the recommendations in our report, it will be for the respective Secretaries of State to decide whether there are particular circumstances which require a somewhat modified approach.