At its first meeting the National Committee agreed that it would need a separate Scottish Standing Committee to advise it on the distinctive nature of the education system in Scotland and on the Scottish issues which should be taken into account in formulating the report for the United Kingdom (UK). Relationships between the two committees have been productive throughout the Inquiry and arrangements for joint committee membership have worked well in resolving issues as they arose.

The recommendations contained in the National Committee's report apply to the whole of the UK. In producing this separate Scottish report, we have attempted to avoid repetition and to concentrate on issues where action is required in Scotland. The Scottish report has, therefore, to be read in conjunction with, and be seen as an integral part of, the National Committee's report.

We have attempted to engage a wider audience in Scotland by detailing a considerable amount of information on Scottish distinctiveness and the current situation within the Scottish higher education system. We recognise that much of this information will be familiar to many within the further and higher education sectors. However, we hope it will provide a record of the position in 1997, as well as assisting those with less knowledge to understand the reasons for our recommendations which are developed in later chapters of the report.

As a country with a small population on the periphery of Europe, Scotland is clearly dependent on the capabilities of its people and the quality of its education system for future economic success. Therefore, in examining the Scottish higher education system and in framing our recommendations we had, as a first priority, the need to ensure that the quality and output of the system would be comparable with the best in the world. Once we had come to a conclusion on those requirements, we gave consideration to the manner in which it should be funded.

It is clear that in Scotland, in recent years, significant progress has been achieved in raising participation in higher education to a level which is much higher than the rest of the UK. All components of the system have made a contribution to those considerable achievements and should be commended for it. In particular, further education has played a significant role at sub-degree level. Our recommendations for a framework of qualifications and for a reorganisation of the methods of funding the system are designed to bring greater coherence to the provision of higher education in Scotland and to build on the impressive results achieved to date.

We envisage a new bond or compact between higher education institutions, students, employers, the economy and the State. This compact must be clearly recognised by each party in terms of duties and responsibilities, as well as benefits.

It is evident that efficiency gains have been achieved in recent years through greater numbers of students going into higher education. Our investigations revealed that graduates are major beneficiaries from the process in terms of financial return. Given the likely continuing difficulties in making additional public funds available for higher education, we have concluded there will be a requirement in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, for making further efficiency gains within the sector, at a sustainable rate. A greater contribution is also required from graduates. Our recommendations on funding and governance and management of institutions are designed to meet both requirements in a way which takes account of Scottish distinctiveness.

In presenting this report, we must record our thanks to all of the contributors who provided both oral and written evidence to our Inquiry, and who responded to our innumerable requests for information. They were many and they came from all parts of the Scottish community. Obviously much of the evidence was provided by the higher education sector itself, and we are grateful for the responsible way in which this was done and for the open access accorded us when requests were made to visit individual institutions. We are, of course, deeply indebted for the support received from the members of the Scottish Committee Secretariat, led by Jane W Denholm, each of whom made an outstanding personal contribution.

Finally, I should like to extend my personal thanks to the members of the Scottish Committee for contributing valuable ideas, knowledge and expertise, and for their diligence in working towards the consensus about the future of Scottish higher education, reflected in this report.