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Scotland's Universities Must Free Themselves From Political Control 25/06/2004



Universities in Scotland should build up endowments to gain more independence from government control, says a new paper by the Policy Institute, a Scottish think-tank.

The report, ‘Enlightened Universities’, by Professor Duncan Rice, Principal of Aberdeen University, says that universities have wider roles than just helping government meet its policy objectives. “Supporting the economy is only one of them, and arguably not the most important. The debate in Scotland must not stop at a utilitarian conception of universities”.

He goes on to say that “education is what gives people enough capacity to acquire new competencies and adapt to new demands throughout life”. He identifies three objectives for universities: to give students the capacity to reason, to prepare them for citizenship, and to play a part in the ordering of society. They should also pursue an agenda which goes beyond the shores of Scotland.

If universities are to be more than agencies of government policy, they “must be prepared to look after themselves as well as expecting the state to provide for them”. Professor Rice points to the example of the USA, where charitable giving is 2% of GDP, compared to 0.6% in the UK. Education is the second biggest recipient there, which means that US universities are far better endowed than their British counterparts.

But this has only come about over the past 20 years, and there are signs that the UK is beginning to follow suit. “In ten years time the dominant model for British universities will be a hermaphrodite one”, says Rice. “Most will be jointly funded by government and the private sector, and government will not be the senior partner”.
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