Profile of higher education in Scotland

2.23 When Robbins reported in 1963, there were four universities, thirteen central institutions, and seven teacher education colleges delivering higher education programmes in Scotland. Further education colleges played a very limited role and, as such, merited barely a mention. Higher education continues to be delivered across a range of institutions today, but both the sector and institutional profiles and roles have changed significantly. We outline below a description of Scottish higher education institutions and further education colleges and profile the subjects available.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)
The Scottish higher education sector encompasses institutions with a variety of missions and different academic traditions. Some compete as international centres of research excellence, while others concentrate on providing vocational education to meet the needs of their local economies or particular professions. In the large universities the majority of staff are engaged in research as well as teaching and scholarship. In other institutions with different academic traditions, research activities are concentrated on fewer staff and departments.

2.25 There are 23 institutions of higher education in Scotland which, between them, deliver 83 per cent of the full-time provision and 58 per cent of the part-time provision:

  • 13 universities;
  • 6 colleges of higher education;
  • 3 colleges of education;
  • the Open University in Scotland.

2.26 These institutions, listed in Annex F, cover a wide range of educational and research activity. Four of the universities are over four hundred years old, and where appropriate, we have characterised these as the 'ancient' universities. Four other universities trace their origins to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We classify these as 'old' universities for the purposes of this report. A separate category, 'pre-1992' universities, combines these groups when appropriate. A third category of university, the 1992 universities is made up of the five new universities created under the 1992 legislation.

2.27 Of the six higher education colleges, three are multi-faculty institutions, two are specialist art schools, and one is Scotland's only conservatoire. Two of the colleges, Queen Margaret College and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, have degree-awarding powers whilst the rest have their courses validated by a university or by a degree-awarding body. There are three monotechnic teacher education colleges in Scotland. The Open University in Scotland delivers the full range of the University's courses in Scotland.

Approximately 161,700 students are studying for a formal qualification in the Scottish higher education sector. Over 114,600 are on undergraduate degree programmes whilst an additional 12,700 are studying for other sub-degree level qualifications. About 34,400 students are aiming for a postgraduate qualification.16

2.29 Scottish higher education institutions differ greatly in terms of numbers of students enrolled. The universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde each have over 16,000 students. The remaining universities range in size from Glasgow Caledonian with over 12,000 students to Abertay Dundee with approximately 4,000 students. The colleges of higher education are generally smaller than the universities with most having fewer than 3,000 students. The smallest colleges are the Scottish College of Textiles, with less than 800 students and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, which has about 400 students.17 Over 14,100 undergraduate and postgraduate students are enrolled in the Open University almost all of whom study on a part-time basis.

2.30 Chart 2.1 shows the distribution of students by institution types and mode of study based upon headcounts in 1994-95. Chart 2.2 shows the same information using full-time equivalent (FTEs) student numbers.18

Subject range
Scottish institutions vary enormously in the provision offered at undergraduate level. Chart 2.3 reveals that in 1994/95 Business Administration was the most popular subject of study across Scottish higher education although there is considerable variation in take-up across institution types. For example, slightly under five per cent of students at the ancient universities read this subject whilst nearly 31 per cent of students do so in the 1992 universities.

2.32 Other subjects attracting a higher proportion of students across the sector include Engineering and Technology, Social Studies and Law. It is worth noting that Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Sciences are exclusively the preserve of the pre-1992 universities, but the new universities offer a great deal of provision in Professions Allied to Medicine.

Level of study
The level of provision also varies across the higher education sector (as well as between the further and higher education sectors). In the majority of universities, undergraduate admissions are to degree courses only. However, in some of the newer universities and colleges, subjects are offered at both the Higher National Diploma (HND) and degree level.

Further education colleges (FECs)
Further education colleges offer higher education provision, mainly at sub-degree level, as part of their commitment to meeting the educational needs and requirements of a regional area. There are 46 further education institutions in Scotland, listed in Annex F, offering a narrower range of higher education qualifications and courses amongst their portfolios of largely further education provision. Furthermore, the higher education programmes are designed and developed primarily by the further education colleges and validated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. We found very little evidence of degree provision being franchised to further education colleges in Scotland.

2.35 Nearly 17 per cent of all full-time undergraduate and postgraduate provision and nearly 42 per cent of all part-time provision in Scotland is offered at one of the further education colleges. In total, these colleges deliver more than 25 per cent of all Scottish higher education provision, which is double the contribution of the further education sector elsewhere in the UK.19 The further education sector clearly makes an important contribution to the provision of higher education in Scotland.

There are approximately 55,000 students studying for a formal higher education qualification in the further education sector in Scotland. More than 52,500 of these students are on sub-degree courses whilst 1,500 students are aiming for a degree. An additional 750 students are studying for a postgraduate qualification.20

2.37 Further education colleges vary in their size and the proportion of higher education they offer. The largest is Aberdeen College with almost 5,000 students. Several other colleges including Bell College of Technology and Fife College of Further and Higher Education have over 2,000 students. However, a significant proportion of further education colleges have fewer than 1,500 students with several having less than 700.21

2.38 The provision of higher education programmes and courses is particularly substantial in five further education colleges. One college, Bell College of Technology, offers exclusively higher education provision. Other colleges with more than 30 per cent higher education as part of their provision include Central College of Commerce, Glasgow College of Building and Printing, Fife College of Further and Higher Education and Stow College. These colleges are also amongst the largest in Scotland.

Subject range
As Chart 2.3 illustrates, the most popular and largest single higher education subject offered is Business Administration. Almost 40 per cent of enrolments were in this area of study. There is also a significant proportion of higher education provision in Engineering and Technology and the Creative Arts.

Level of study
Further education colleges make a distinctive contribution to the range of higher education qualifications offered in Scotland. The overwhelming majority of students in further education institutions who are studying higher education courses (94 per cent of full-time and 64 per cent of part-time) are studying for either the HNC or the HND, ie sub-degree-level higher education qualifications. In 1994/95 approximately 53 per cent of graduates and diplomates, ie those with higher education qualifications from further education institutions, went on to further, full-time, study.22

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