4.1 This chapter considers the core business of higher education - the delivery of teaching, the experience of learning and the pursuit of research. It proposes the organisation of Scottish higher education qualifications into a coherent and consistent framework, describes new qualifications which might be offered in Scotland and places the role of Scottish higher education institutions in research and in the local, regional and national economies in context.

New Scottish qualifications framework

Scottish framework
The Scottish higher education experience, and the rewards this affords to students, compares well with the best in the world and ensures that graduates of Scottish higher institutions are highly skilled and well-placed to compete in an increasingly global and competitive world. We are committed to ensuring that in future, the quality and standard of Scottish higher education awards remain high and are highly sought after.

4.3 Earlier we considered the distinctive features of Scottish higher education and we believe, in describing and developing the structure and shape of the Scottish higher education system for the next two decades, we have paid full accord to its distinctiveness. This includes our reaffirmation of the importance of breadth in the curriculum, continuing strong support for the Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND), the traditional Scottish honours degree and the re-emergence of the new-style Bachelors degree as an honourable exit point for many future graduates from Scottish higher education institutions.

4.4 We have begun our task with the premise that our prime objective is to create a framework in which the providers of Scottish higher education can offer, and maintain, a high quality higher education system which is amongst the best in the world. We wish to stress that the realisation of key aspects of our vision relies on the adoption by institutions of this framework, and many of our subsequent recommendations are therefore contingent upon institutions taking this forward.

4.5 With the National Committee we have considered and identified a general framework describing the range of qualifications which are currently available and which might become available. The framework includes school and further education provision to illustrate the relationship between qualifications at different levels and to emphasise the possibilities for articulation. We anticipate that Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) levels 1-5 will also be mapped on to the framework in due course. Current Scottish provision is mapped at Chart 4.1 and the future position at Chart 4.2. The qualifications themselves are considered in more detail later in this chapter.


4.6 The 'Higher Education' column represents the different routes which students might take to achieve an award through the study of a broad curriculum or through more specialised and/or professional programmes of study. Although the framework shows how different levels of study relate to one another, it is important to note that the accumulation of credit points does not necessarily guarantee progression between levels. This will depend on the requirements of particular programmes. Up to level H4, each level requires at least 120 credit points at the appropriate level and subjects of study. Each level represents progression and more advanced attainment. A Bachelors' degree requires 360 credit points at levels H1-H3 and an honours degree 480 credit points at levels H1-H4, although rate of progress will depend upon the amount of appropriate and relevant credit awarded at each level. It is our expectation that, once the framework becomes fully established, students would attempt to enter the framework at the highest possible level based on past attainments.

4.7 Professional programmes will fit into the framework as institutions and professional bodies determine. For those who wished to become teachers, the one-year Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) would be awarded at level H5, reflecting the fact that it is a postgraduate conversion qualification. The BEd programme would be awarded at level H4. In medicine, most students currently receive a conjoint degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. The specialism required means that it would be awarded at level H5.

As part of its framework of qualifications, the National Committee is recommending that the nomenclature of awards is consistent across institutions and throughout the United Kingdom (UK). The framework that we have developed commends this approach. Chart 4.1 illustrates how the current Scottish position allows for at least three different types and levels of Masters degrees. We do not think that this is helpful to students or employers. We have, therefore, provided a framework which offers clear titles at each level in accord with that developed by the National Committee in Chart 4.2.

4.9 Our aim is that different pathways through higher education qualifications should be available and should not be prescriptive. There has long been a need for clearly signposted routes through the qualifications maze, and we suggest that the proposed framework is adopted by higher education institutions so that it can be used by individual students to plan and map their own personal progress. By allowing for movement in different directions the framework will represent, we believe, a network, rather than a ladder, of opportunities.

4.10 Scottish higher education enjoys a lead in offering flexibility and choice for students, and we consider this to be of paramount importance. We therefore endorse the National Committee's view that that there should be honourable exit points with credit for satisfactorily completed study at each level. Qualifications should be based on outcomes and attainment, not on 'years of study'. Levels should be clearly related to the accumulation of credits. This is crucial both in terms of clarity of academic progress and in terms of how programmes could be funded in future.

4.11 The Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (SCOTCATS) framework is well-established and we envisage an enhanced role for the Scottish Advisory Committee on Credit and Access (SACCA) in assisting with the ongoing development of the qualifications framework. As this is still a relatively new concept, where we have attempted to show how our proposed qualifications would develop, we describe these both in terms of credit points and in conventional years of full-time study, to allow for comparison.

4.12 The National Committee is recommending a parallel framework of qualifications for the rest of the UK. It also proposes that the new Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) will be charged with the maintenance of the qualifications frameworks as one of its functions. This would include helping institutions and bodies representing professional subject areas to map their provision on to the framework. In Scotland, this task will also require co-ordination with SACCA and, given the centrality of HNCs and HNDs to the portfolio of higher education in Scotland, it should be carried out jointly by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the Quality Assurance Agency.

Recommendation 1
We recommend to providers of higher education programmes in Scotland, the Quality Assurance Agency, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the Scottish Advisory Committee on Credit and Access that they should together consider and adopt an integrated qualifications framework based around level of study and Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme credit points.

UK-wide framework
The development of a coherent qualifications framework for Scotland raises issues of equivalence across borders. We acknowledge that the four-year honours degree 'will be compared and will be viewed as comparable within the UK university system by students and employers'.34 With the National Committee we have reviewed the case for a common qualifications framework across the UK, and agreed that there are points of equivalence. Honours degrees are considered to be equivalent on both sides of the border. The National Committee has proposed that the Edexcel35 HNC and HND provision is structured in the same way as that in Scotland. The National Committee has also recommended the development of broader programmes and included provision in its framework for a three-year Bachelors degree.

4.14 In other aspects the two frameworks are different, most notably at the level of, and articulation with, school-level qualifications. This has a concomitant effect upon the rest of the higher education system in Scotland, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding the introduction of the Advanced Higher, which is discussed below, and we have concluded that, although it is a desirable aim, the frameworks cannot be aligned in the medium term. They will, therefore, remain parallel although over time we believe that there could be closer alignment.

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