Jeremy Peat and Alice Brown: Debate on further education vital

WE AT the David Hume Institute are delighted that The Scotsman is this week publishing four of our essays on the vital topic of higher education and Scotland.

The institute ran a major seminar on this topic last autumn which stimulated substantial debate. We felt that the discussion should be continued. Therefore we approached a range of informed parties – university principals past and present, economic analysts of the sector, and a range of commentators outwith as well as within Scotland – asking them to contribute essays on aspects within this broad but crucial theme.

What really mattered was that the authors should be widely recognised as people who could make a valuable contribution to such a debate. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

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While some of the authors address the issue of university funding, this collection of essays is not just about fees, nor is it an attack on the new Scottish Government's policy on higher education.

Rather, there is a desire to move beyond narrow policy debates in order to focus on fundamental questions about what higher education is for and what the appropriate relationship with the state should be. There is agreement that we need to consider the global context, look at the bigger picture and find a distinctive Scottish solution which is not only deliverable in the short term but sustainable in the future.

We welcome the decision announced last week by cabinet secretary, Mike Russell, to establish a review of university governance. We are confident that these essays will be of value to the review and to inform further debate on a host of key issues, not least the cost-effective delivery of high quality and relevant higher education. We seek an enhanced, evidence-based, policy debate – starting from a sceptical perspective in the tradition of Hume.

• Jeremy Peat is director of the David Hume Institute. Professor Alice Brown is a trustee. Tomorrow in Scottish Perspective: Frances Cairncross on a Scottish solution on tuition fees.