Professor Sheila Riddell outlines her ESRC funded research on the future of education in the context of devolution and in light of the forthcoming referendum on independence.
In the run-up to the referendum in autumn 2014, it is important to think about what sort of society we want to create in Scotland and how we want to relate to our neighbours in the rest of the UK and Europe. Higher education is at the centre of this debate, since it has a strong bearing on individual life chances and social mobility. Higher levels of educational qualification are becoming increasingly important in the labour market, since EU and OECD projections suggest that the majority of jobs created over the next ten years will require higher levels of skills and qualifications. If opportunities for social mobility are increasingly restricted, as appears to be the case in Scotland, the UK and much of Europe, then societies are likely to become more unequal and less cohesive. Scottish Government policy on the funding of higher education, which may be delivered in universities or colleges, is of central importance in widening participation, and the impact of fees regimes on different social groups across the UK will be examined as part of this project. We will also be looking at the impact of a range of widening access initiatives adopted by universities and colleges including outreach activity in schools, admissions processes and criteria, support through student services and access to bursaries.
Higher education also impinges on many other important areas of public policy which are highly relevant to the debate on devolution and independence. For example, we will be discussing the possibility of Scotland developing a different approach to immigration compared with the rest of the UK, and the implications of Scottish immigration policy for overseas students. The future of shared services, such as UCAS and the Research Councils will also be discussed, as will the future of UK organisations with Scottish branches such as the NUS and the UCU.
During the course of the project, we will be undertaking primary research and public engagement activities. We will be using UCAS data to explore the cross-border flow of students between Scotland, the rest of the UK and Europe to investigate the impact of different fees regimes. We will also be conducting key informant interviews with key players in government, funding councils and trades unions to examine different visions of the future of Scottish higher education. Public engagement activities will include a series of think tanks involving a cross-section of the Scottish public, with a particular focus on hearing the views of young people. We also plan to produce a short film and teaching materials to be used in schools.
Sheila Riddell is a Professor of Inclusion and Diversity in the Moray House School of Education, has been awarded a Scotland Senior Fellowship by the ESRC to study the future of higher education in the context of devolution and the forthcoming referendum on independence.