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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 May, 2004, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Wallace defends university plan
Students
Mr Wallace said students should not get confused by legal definitions
The enterprise minister has strongly dismissed criticisms of his plans to reform higher education.

Jim Wallace branded the concerns from Dundee University principal Sir Alan Langlands as "bizarre".

It comes after Sir Alan complained that the Scottish Executive's proposal to merge Scotland's two largest education funding bodies was "risible".

The executive has begun consultation on the possible merger of the further and higher education funding councils.

All organisations eligible for funding through the new body would fall under the new category of specified tertiary education providers (Steps).

It will be confusing to prospective students at home and abroad and to the top-class academics and researchers
Sir Alan Langlands
Dundee University principal
Mr Wallace insisted the move would not threaten the title, legal status or character of Scotland's universities and colleges.

But in a letter to the Scotland on Sunday newspaper Sir Alan described the idea of creating Steps as "risible".

He added: "But more important it will be confusing to prospective students at home and abroad and to the top-class academics and researchers whom we strive to attract and retain in Scotland."

He said: "The organisation, academic policy, choice of students, syllabus and pattern of teaching and study in our universities is best left to the experts.

"Ministers should not take a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Damage concerns

"They could simply merge the funding councils and let us get on with the job of providing higher and further education that aims to compete with the best in the world and that delivers huge economic, social and cultural benefits for 21st-century Scotland."

Mr Wallace responded: "Some of the concerns raised by Alan Langlands are, to be honest, a bit bizarre.

"Thankfully, we are in the first week of this consultation which means there is plenty of time for him to come to terms with the fact that his fears will not be realised."

Fears that the bill will give ministers more powers to intervene in courses and the way universities are governed are unfounded
Jim Wallace
Enterprise minister
The minister insisted that Steps was only "an administrative shorthand" to describe the organisations that will be funded by the new funding council.

He said students would not be confused unless they "spend their spare time reading the legal definitions used in draft bills of the Scottish Parliament".

And he added: "What will do damage is if they read comments from those in the higher education sector claiming that Scotland's universities and colleges are soon to be radically overhauled and renamed Steps."

He said any future legislation would enshrine the principles of academic autonomy and freedom.

"Fears that the bill will give ministers more powers to intervene in courses and the way universities are governed are unfounded," he said.


SEE ALSO:
Mixed reaction to education plans
30 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Scots universities set for change
29 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Foreign student applications rise
29 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Fees warning for universities
09 Sep 03  |  Scotland


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