On 22 November 2016, Universities Scotland held their annual reception in the Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament.
To read more about the event, please read our preview of the event.
Universities Scotland were delighted to have the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville address our guests. Her speech from our reception is below:
Thank you Professor Nolan. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the important current and future role played by our higher education sector in benefitting the Scottish economy and wider society.
As has been the case over almost a decade, this Scottish Government is committed to supporting excellence and equity in higher education.
That is why this year, we again made over a billion pounds in funding available, through the Scottish Funding Council – having invested over four billion pounds in the sector over the last four years.
Within that global sum, we continue to invest in the development and application of higher education research, supporting entrepreneurial activity, and innovation & technology.
On innovation, programmes such as the Ministerial-led Scotland CAN DO Innovation Forum set up to focus on increasing the contribution that innovation makes to the economy through driving up levels of business innovation, highlight the Scottish Government’s support in this area.
Over the past year Forum members have been assisting us with identifying and setting clear objectives that will now form an Innovation Action Plan which will be published at the end of November.
Connections between business and academia through ‘Interface’, who provide an essential link to Scottish higher education and research institutions for many companies, have also proved vital in helping stimulate demand for innovation and to encourage these companies to consider academic support to help solve their business challenges.
Through the continued investment of the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, ‘Interface’ are able to offer this free and impartial service to companies in all sectors across the whole of Scotland.
Recently, the Enterprise and Skills Review has been looking closely at the roles and relationships of our economic development and skills agencies to ensure that they are providing maximum support for innovation and internationalisation.
The Review’s Phase 1 Report, published on 25th October highlighted concerns that the innovation support ecosystem is complicated and difficult to navigate.
And to address this we will be conducting a review of the support system with a view to providing a simpler and more effective system for all.
But let me be clear, any changes will not impinge on the autonomy of our universities.
The autonomous nature of our higher education institutions is of primary importance to you.
And I can assure you that it also is to the Scottish Government.
This theme of excellence and equity extends to our partnership with the sector to implement the findings of the Commission on Widening Access.
The Commission set out an ambitious plan that will see Scotland lead the way on widening participation to those in our most disadvantaged communities.
Achieving a step change in progress remains a key priority for this Government and we are determined to maintain momentum.
That is why we immediately accepted all 34 of the Commission’s recommendations including stretching national and institutional targets.
There has also been considerable progress behind the scenes.
My officials have been working closely with SAAS to implement the system changes necessary to ensure that those with a care experience can access full, non-repayable bursaries from 2017/18 onwards.
Similarly, we are working with the Scottish Funding Council to establish how progress can be driven through robust outcome agreements with institutions.
Our priority remains the appointment of a Commissioner for Fair Access.
This role will be pivotal to successful implementation and it is therefore right that we take the time necessary to identify a candidate with the right blend of expertise, authority and availability.
But implementation is not a task for Government alone. Responsibility for the thirty four (34) recommendations is distributed across a range of sectors and organisations.
In this context it is important that we find a way of driving and coordinating implementation in a coherent manner.
To that end we have been working on designing the delivery structures necessary to achieve this and we will soon be in a position to announce further details.
I also want to say that I have been heartened to note the positive response from the university sector to the Commission’s report.
Though implementation will doubtless present challenges for institutions, they have made clear their commitment and I am confident that a strong partnership between Ministers and the sector will see Scotland reap the social, economic and ethical rewards of a more diverse system.
The quality of higher education in Scotland is something I, and I’m sure everyone here, is also proud of and rightly so.
The Scottish Government fully supports teaching excellence. It is core to the success of our sector.
As I’m sure many of you will be aware, the UK Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework seeks to take a new approach to quality assurance. An approach that will be provided for in the UK Higher Education and Research Bill.
However, it is important to be clear, it is my view that the current system of quality assurance in Scotland works.
I value greatly the well-established and unique approach taken in Scotland to quality assessment, involving students, institutions, the QAA in Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council.
I have listened to the sector and given my agreement to participation in year two of TEF. However, I would not want that to be at the expense of the quality assurance system we have here in Scotland.
As the TEF develops and the Bill progresses, I and my officials, have been and will continue to, work closely with our counterparts in UK Government to ensure that there are no adverse consequences for HEIs or students in Scotland resulting from either.
Finally on Scotland’s relationship with the EU.
Let me be crystal clear – we will continue to work with Universities Scotland to advance the interests of our higher education institutions in the EU context and globally.
Consider myself and other Ministers at your disposal in this regard.
The Scottish Government believes that Scotland as a whole and our individual universities benefit immensely from the free movement of staff and students across Europe. And we want that to continue.
Indeed, I understand that Scotland’s higher education institutions exist in a global marketplace.
I want to keep the pressure up on a UK government that, with its regressive plans for immigration policy, could deny Scotland’s institutions the ability to continue to help educate the world.
We have a world class further and higher education sector, which attracts students and academics from all over Europe.
These students who choose to study here and make Scotland their home, improve the learning experience for everyone, add to the diversity of our culture and their contribution to our society is something we greatly appreciate.
Scotland enjoys a reputation as a world leader in education. Scotland is also an outward-looking and inclusive country, epitomised by the diversity of our autonomous higher education institutions and the people who study, research and work in them.
I believe in a Scotland of opportunity, diversity and ingenuity. I know that you do too.
So, let us continue to work together in common purpose.