Terms of reference and background to the review

1.1 The terms of reference of the National Committee of Inquiry required it to take into account the distinctive features of higher education in different parts of the United Kingdom (UK). To meet this requirement, and given the particular distinctiveness of Scottish higher education, it was considered appropriate that a Standing Committee of the National Committee be established to examine these features in detail and to advise the National Committee accordingly. Like the National Committee, the Scottish Committee had a diverse membership, covering all of the stakeholders of higher education, including representatives from further and higher education institutions, staff, students, employers and schools. The terms of reference and membership of the National Committee and Scottish Committee are in Annexes A and B respectively.

Approach to our task and relationship to the National Committee

1.2 To fulfil the mandate in our terms of reference to advise the National Committee on issues pertaining to higher education in Scotland, we maintained close contact with the National Committee throughout our work. Similarly, written and verbal reports of the work and progress of the National Committee (including minutes of National Committee meetings) were received at meetings of the Scottish Committee. Dual membership of both committees of three members has been especially helpful in maintaining contact and in ensuring that the committees were kept informed of one another's progress. This contact was especially valuable in the latter stages of our work as the committees began to formulate conclusions.

1.3 We were also kept informed of the progress of the working groups of the National Committee and received and considered their interim and final reports to the National Committee. At the same time, we advised the working groups on relevant issues, as appropriate, throughout the duration of the Inquiry.

1.4 In order to meet our terms of reference effectively and in a timely manner, we considered and agreed to adopt the working methods adopted by the National Committee. These arrangements called for: regular meetings of the committee; the receipt of presentations; the consideration of submissions and evidence; the commissioning of appropriate research; and institutional and other organisational visits within and outwith Scotland.

Regular meetings of the Committee
We met on 13 occasions, between July 1996 and June 1997. Up to March 1997 we met once per month (excluding August 1996), thereafter we met approximately fortnightly, primarily to discuss the detail of our final report.

The receipt of presentations
To inform discussion, we invited various Scottish and UK-wide organisations with expertise in post-secondary education and qualifications to give informative papers and presentations on matters of interest to us. During these sessions, we had the opportunity to discuss the current status of projects and policies as well as identifying issues for future consideration. Details of the organisations that we met, and those who attended our meetings, is in Annex C.

The consideration of submissions and evidence
Each submission received by the National Committee, from Scottish organisations and individuals, has been read by at least two members of the Scottish Committee. These submissions covered a broad range of interests including those of higher and further education institutions, professional and statutory bodies, employers, students, learned societies, representative bodies and trade unions. We also considered relevant submissions made to the National Committee from UK-wide organisations.

In order to explore some of these submissions in further depth, we convened an oral evidence session in Edinburgh on 27 February 1997 inviting eight Scottish organisations which had responded to the National Committee's call for written evidence. During this session, we had the opportunity to discuss issues and views arising from submissions with representatives of the organisations themselves. A list of organisations and their representatives which gave oral evidence to us, is included in Annex D. Scottish Committee members also participated in the UK-wide oral evidence sessions convened on behalf of the National Committee.

1.9 Beyond these formal discussion forums, we also participated in a number of individual meetings, seminars and conferences with higher education stakeholders within and outwith Scotland. These offered the opportunity for us to listen to and engage stakeholders, including employers, in focused discussion on particular topics or concerns. The Chairman of the National Committee had an introductory meeting with representatives of interested Scottish groups at the University of Glasgow on 21 October 1996. A seminar was held on 9 December 1996 in Stirling at which Scottish small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) were invited to discuss higher education from their unique perspective. This was one of a series of six such seminars held across the UK. On 18 February 1997 a consultation conference was held in Edinburgh, at Napier University, again as part of a UK programme, which invited comments and discussion from interested Scottish organisations and institutions on a wide range of higher education issues. Members also met with the Universities Association for Continuing Education (Scotland) on 3 December 1996, and the Forum for Scottish Education on 26 February 1997, to hear their views on higher education.

The commissioning of appropriate research
From the outset, a wide range of available evidence and data on Scottish higher education provision was forthcoming from various organisations and individuals to inform our discussions. To supplement this information, we sought a considerable amount of additional data, information and analysis from a number of sources, including The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department (SOEID) the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) and the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals (COSHEP). We commissioned work to develop a Scottish higher education statistical information base, some of which we have drawn upon in our report. We have also undertaken surveys ourselves of the use and administration of the Access Funds in Scotland; of perceptions of research in biotechnology and life sciences in Scotland; and of policies on the advanced placement of students with A levels in Scottish higher education institutions.

Institutional visits
Scottish Committee members were invited to meet with managers, staff and students at a number of higher education institutions in Scotland and in the rest of the UK. A complete list of institutions visited is in Annex E. These visits were often organised around particular themes, eg semesterisation, credit accumulation, communications and information technology innovation and modularisation. During these visits, we had the opportunity to meet with management, academic and administrative staff, visit academic departments and meet with student representatives. Reports from these visits and others were shared with colleagues serving on the National Committee.