Document 1262

Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: SB 02-02 Higher and Further Education Institutions

Author(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Copyright holder(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: © Scottish Parliamentary copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Queen's Printer for Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.


Research Briefing 02/02
11 January 2002


This briefing offers definitions of some of the key terms and processes involved in the categorisation of institutions within Scottish lifelong learning. It examines the generic term “higher education institution” then differentiates between the titles: “University College”, “University” “Specialist Institution” and “General Higher Education College”. It then examines institutional categories in the Scottish Further Education sector, such as “General FE Colleges”, “Land-based Colleges” and “Specialised Designated Institutions”.

Provision of Higher Education in Scotland is split between a variety of institutions in both the Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) sectors. There is one Higher Education Institution, the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), which is directly funded by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD). With the exception of SAC, in Scotland, an institution is defined as being a “higher education institution” (HEI) if it is designated under 1992 Act as being eligible to receive funding from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) (1) or was classified as being a university prior to 1992. SHEFC was established under section 37 of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992. According to SHEFC, HEIs are “legally autonomous corporate bodies whose primary purposes are undertaking teaching, scholarship and research (2)”.

There are twenty SHEFC funded HEIs in Scotland. These can be divided into universities, university colleges, specialist institutions and Higher Education colleges. The powers HEIs have differ, as an HEI:

• may have the power to award both taught and research degrees
• may have the power to award taught degrees only
• or may not have the power to award their own degrees.

Following the passing of the 1992 Act only one college has transferred between the FE and HE sectors; Bell College was designated an HEI on the 1st of August 2001 (3). Examples of transfers within the HE sector include a number of former higher education colleges, which have merged with universities. Such transfers include Moray House and Jordanhill, which have become part of the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde respectively and Northern College, which has also recently merged with the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee (4).

In the following section the differences in title, status and powers between SHEFC funded HEIs will be explored under the headings (5):

1. Universities
2. University Colleges
3. Specialist Institution
4. Higher Education Colleges

HEIs without degree awarding powers, for example Bell College in Hamilton, typically offer programmes at first degree, post graduate and sub degree (eg HNC/D) levels. Degree level programmes offered by such HEIs, are usually designed by the provider, though they are approved directly by a university or university college under a ‘validation’ or ‘accreditation’ arrangement’ (6) once the validating institution has satisfied itself that the college’s arrangements for maintaining quality and standards are sufficient. Validation agreements between HEIs without degree awarding powers and universities or university colleges are not usually in place for courses offered at sub-degree level. For HNC/D, the most common of these type of courses, validation and accreditation arrangements are the responsibility of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA.). HEIs with degree awarding powers can design, provide and accredit their own degree programmes under the scrutiny of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).

1. Universities
There are currently 13 universities in Scotland. These institutions have “diverse backgrounds, legal status and constitutional arrangements” (7). The most significant distinction between institutions holding the title of “university” is between those universities established before 1992 and those established in accordance with the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 (8). Though it is not an institution SHEFC also funds the Open University’s activities in Scotland. (9).

Universities have the power to award both taught and research degrees. University status can only be applied for once the power to award both taught and research degrees, has been granted by the Privy Council. Pre -1992 universities in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, have their academic freedom safeguarded under the Educational Reform Act 1988 (10).

• Pre-1992 Universities
A further subdivision within those institutions categorised as pre-1992 universities is the distinction between ancient and chartered universities. The various statutes, charters and acts of Parliament, establishing institutions may influence the individual structure and governance of each university.

There are four universities that can be described as ancient: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. The four ancient universities have their compositions governed by the Universities (Scotland) Acts 1858 - 1966. Four of the eight pre-1992 universities were constituted by Royal Charter (11), which can only be amended by the Privy Council. These institutions can trace their existence back hundreds of years – in the case of St Andrews, the oldest, to 1411. The universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and St Andrews, were founded by papal bull (a decree by the Pope). Edinburgh University was established by the town council. All four institutions were subsequently “constituted by the Universities (Scotland) Acts 1858 to 1966”.

2. Chartered Universities
The universities of Stirling, Strathclyde, Heriot-Watt, and Dundee were established in the 1960s. These universities earned their status through the granting of a Royal Charter, after application to the Privy Council, following the recommendation of the Robbins report in 1963. (12) Whilst these institutions were only granted university status relatively recently, some have been around, in various guises, for over a hundred years. The four chartered universities, established in the 1960s, have similar compositions to chartered universities in England, with the composition and size of their Governing Bodies being set out in their Statutes.

• Post 1992 Universities
Five Scottish institutions have successfully sought university status under the provisions of the 1992 Act. Section 46 of this Act (13) granted the Secretary of State the power to establish new higher education institutions in Scotland. It has, however, only been used once, to establish Glasgow Caledonian University. In this instance section 47 was also used as Glasgow Caledonian was created through the merger of Glasgow Polytechnic (which met the criteria for university status in its own right) and Queen’s College, Glasgow. The four other post 1992 universities: Robert Gordon, Paisley, Napier, and Abertay did not need to be (re)established under the terms of the 1992 Act as the institutions met the necessary criteria to apply for university status. Though the award of university status came as recently as the 1990s, these institutions have a far longer history.

2. University Colleges
As a result of recommendations made by the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (14) the title of ‘university college’ is available not only to colleges which are fully part of a university but also Higher Education colleges with powers to award their own taught degrees. These institutions can apply to the Privy Council for the right to use the title university college (15). In Scotland there is only one university college, Queen Margaret University College, which has both taught and research degree awarding powers. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) could have applied for university college title on the strength of its power to award taught degrees, but has not done so.

3 Specialist Institutions
There are three specialist institutions in Scotland, Edinburgh College of Art, Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Of these, only the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama has taught degree awarding powers. The other Specialist Institutions have their courses validated by a partner institution.

4. General Higher Education Colleges
General Higher education colleges may or may not have taught degree awarding powers. Institutions without degree awarding powers usually prepare their students for degrees awarded by a university or a university college under a ‘validation’ arrangement. Bell College and UHI Millennium have their degrees validated by partner institutions. However, the majority of HE provision offered by these institutions is at sub-degree Higher National level and such courses are validated and accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

The 1992 Act gave the Privy Council responsibility for deciding which institutions should be granted degree awarding powers (16). The Privy Council acts on the advice of Government and consults Scottish Ministers on applications from Scottish institutions. However, Ministers from all four UK countries have agreed with the Privy Council on the criteria for degree awarding powers and university title. The agreed criteria apply on UK wide basis. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education also advises the Government on the merits of applications for degree awarding powers.

HEIs can determine whether to apply to the Privy Council to be granted:
• Taught degree awarding powers
• University College title
• Research and taught degree awarding powers
• University title

Under the present criteria, unless the institution is regarded as a specialist institution, research degree awarding powers and university title are normally applied for simultaneously. There are set criteria and procedures an institution has to satisfy before it can be awarded any of these powers (17).

Only designated HEIs may apply for degree awarding powers and university status. The designation of institutions as eligible for funding by SHEFC (under section 44 of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland)) Act 1992) is separate from the application process. Designation under section 44 gives the institution access to SHEFC funding. Colleges of FE cannot apply for degree awarding powers under the 1992 Act.

The Privy Council, Quality Assurance Agency and the applicant institution’s validating partner(s) all play a role in the applications process.

• To secure taught degree awarding powers an applicant has to satisfy a number of criteria in relation to institutional governance and management, quality assurance, academic staffing and administrative infrastructure.
• To secure specialist research degree awarding powers a further set of criteria relating to the institutional research environment need to be satisfied.
• To achieve University title a series of criteria relating to institutional governance and management, quality assurance, academic staffing, administrative infrastructure and the institutional research environment need to be satisfied.

According to QAA guidelines, institutions seeking university status and/or the power to award degrees should be (18):

• acknowledged as being worthy of university title or degree awarding powers by their peer community
• well founded, cohesive, self critical
• have their own mission statement
• contribute to diversity within the system
• maintain the quality of degrees

In addition, over the five years preceding an application the institution must demonstrate that:

• none of its provision has been found to be unsatisfactory by the relevant quality assurance agency
• serious weaknesses of academic management have been identified in academic audits or institutional review reports

HEIs applying for university title only should normally have:
• 300+ full-time equivalent HE students in five subject areas from the following list:
- Clinical and Pre-Clinical subjects
- Subjects and Professions Allied to Medicine
- Science
- Engineering and Technology
- Built Environment
- Mathematical Science, Information Technology and Computing
- Business and Management
- Social Sciences
- Humanities
- Art, Design and the Performing Arts
- Education, Initial Teacher Training and Qualified Teacher Status
• An HE enrolment of 4,000+ full time equivalent students
• At least 3,000 of which are taking degree level courses
• at least 60 current research degree registrations
• 30+ Doctor of Philosophy Conferments

The summary which follows (fig. 1), traces the applications process which institutions seeking degree awarding powers and/or university status, must follow.

The Applications and Scrutiny Process (fig. 1)
(Institutions may fail at any point in this process)

Beginning the Process
• The institution submits its case for degree awarding powers and/ or university status (“Critical Self Analysis”) to the Clerk of the Privy Council
• The submission is considered by the Quality Assurance Agency’s Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers (ACDAP).
• A Scrutiny Panel is appointed.

The Scrutiny Panel
• Is chaired by members of the ACDAP
• consists of 4-6 people some of whom will be heads or senior members of HEIs and may include people with professional experience relevant to the applicant institution
• Institutions should make available to the Panel, their plans and those of their validating partner(s) for the progressive transfer of full responsibility for degree awarding functions

The Preliminary Visit
• ACDAP Committee secretary and 2 assessors visit the applicant institution and produce a report, which is considered by the Scrutiny Panel
• The Panel may then recommend that the scruting process should continue or advise the institution to undertake further development work

If the Panel recommend continued scrutiny a small team of assessors are appointed to collect evidence on the application

• Reviewing documents made available by the applicant institution
• Observing formal meetings including committee meetings, review events and examination boards
• Engaging in structured discussions with staff, students and external interest groups
• The applicant institution’s validating partner(s) comment on the suitability of the applying institution

Visit by the Scrutiny Panel
• Members of the Panel meet with governors, senior managers, teaching and other staff, students and external interest groups
• The Panel reports to the ACDAP

A Decision is Made
ACDAP advise education ministers in the light of the Scrutiny Panel’s report.
A final decision on an application is a matter for the Privy Council.


The provision of higher education in Scotland is not confined to those institutions designated as being “higher education institutions”. Many Further Education colleges also offer higher level courses such as HNCs and HNDs, some also offer degree level programmes, but like HEIs without degree awarding powers, have their courses validated by a partner institution with degree awarding powers.

Before 1993, Further Education colleges were run by the education authorities (19). The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 removed FE colleges from local authority control and established them as independent ‘incorporated’ bodies. There are 46 FE colleges currently funded by the Scottish Further Education Funding Council (SFEFC), three of which, Orkney College, Newbattle Abbey College and Shetland College, are ‘unincorporated’ in terms of the 1992 Act. Incorporated Scottish FE colleges are self governing under the supervision of SFEFC and the Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department. FE colleges are accountable to Scottish Ministers whose statutory duty it is to ‘secure adequate and efficient provision of further education in Scotland’ (20). The Scottish Executive retains some controls, which were specified in the 1992 Act (e.g. in relation to closures and mergers). In addition to these 46 colleges a number of private colleges also offer HE courses.

Further Education covers a wide range of courses for post-16 year olds, including vocational and general education, employment related training and Higher Education. Unlike university degrees which are awarded by the institutions themselves, nationally recognised sub-degree level courses offered by FE colleges are awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). The SQA is the national body in Scotland responsible for the development, accreditation, assessment, and certification of qualifications other than degrees.

SQA's functions are to:

• devise, develop and validate qualifications, and keep them under review
• accredit qualifications
• approve education and training establishments as being suitable for entering people for these qualifications
• arrange for, assist in, and carry out, the assessment of people taking SQA qualifications
• quality assure education and training establishments which offer SQA qualifications
• issue certificates to candidates

The Qualifications they accredit include:
• National Qualifications (including Standard Grade and National Units and Courses at Access, Intermediate, Higher and Advanced Higher levels)
• Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNC/HND)
• Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs)
• Customised Awards and Professional Development Awards.

New provision of National courses up to Advanced Higher level requires the permission of the Scottish Executive before they can be developed and available to schools and colleges to deliver. The SQA then awards and certificates these via a system of internal and external assessment. The SQA validates each programme of study to ensure that it complies with the official design specifications for each type of qualification.

Though the power to award sub-degree level national qualifications, lies with the Scottish Qualifications Authority rather than individual colleges, within the FE sector as in the HE sector differences exist between institutions in terms of the type of course provision offered. There are three main types of FE colleges in Scotland, these are:

1. General FE colleges
These colleges offer a broad range of courses both full time and part time, day time and evening. Many of these colleges draw students both regionally and nationally. Examples of general FE colleges in Scotland include; Clackmannan College, Cumbernauld College, Lauder College.

2. Land based colleges
These colleges offer courses with a focus such as farming, management and engineering (machine maintenance). In Scotland there are three such colleges, The Barony College, Elmwood College and Oatridge Agricultural College.

3. Specialist designated institutions
These colleges serve an area well beyond the locality, often nationally. Examples of Scottish colleges serving a specialist national and sometimes international catchment area include, the Glasgow College of Building and Printing, Glasgow College of Food Technology and the Glasgow College of Nautical Studies.

The boundaries between FE and HE are becoming increasingly blurred with the re-designation of Bell College and the provision of SHEFC funded HE courses through the UHI Millennium Institute partnership network. This network offers an example of how institutions may bridge both the FE and HE sectors both in terms of provision and funding.

UHI Millennium Institute: A Case study
• UHI’s Board of governors has overall control of HE provision and finance throughout the partnership network.
• 5 UHI faculties – offer an academic/collegiate dimension to HE study in partner colleges
• Since being accredited by the Open University Validation Services in March 1998, UHIMI partner colleges have developed taught degree programmes within the regulatory framework developed in conjunction with the Open University Validation Services. Accreditation of taught courses was confirmed in March 2001.
• The academic partner colleges which form UHIMI continue to be funded by SFEFC for FE activities while HE activity is funded by SHEFC. HE activity includes research, taught postgraduate work, degree level work and HN programmes.
• About 60% of the activity of partner colleges remains FE. Most HE students are engaged in higher education national certificate and diploma courses and only a small proportion go on to degree level courses. FE and HN qualifications are expected to remain the main activity of most Academic Partners.
• UHI aims to provide a ‘seamless garment’ of tertiary education in which HN provision is determined by the partner colleges but degree courses must meet the needs of learners across the network of 13 partner colleges and 2 associate colleges.


Type of HEI Legal Basis Powers and Status
[NOTE: Table here in original]

Research Notes are compiled for the benefit of Members of Parliament and their personal staff. Authors are available to discuss the contents of these papers with Members and their staff but cannot advise members of the general public.

1 For the purposes of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 institutions in the higher education sector comprise (a) [pre-1992] universities; and (b) institutions designated under section 44 of that Act as eligible to receive funding from SHEFC.
2 Guide for members of governing bodies of Scottish Higher Education Institutions and Good Practice benchmarks, SHEFC, 1999
3 (SSI 2001/39)
4 The merger occurred following the passing of SSI 2001/407, which came into force on 1st December 2001.
5 See Annex for summary table.
6 validation agreements allow universities or university colleges to grant degrees to students studying in partner institutions
7 CVCP Briefing Note: How Universities are Governed, Higher Education Briefing Service, London, July 1, 1998.
8 Section 44 - under which all SHEFC funded HEIs other than pre-1992 universities are designated; section 48 - under which the universities designated under the 1992 Act, Queen Margaret University College (QMUC) and Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama were given powers to award degrees,; section 49 - under which the 1992 Act universities and QMUC were permitted to use the word “university” as part of their name.
9 Open University courses are usually provided by means of partnership agreements with other institutions.
10 Section 202(2) of the Educational Reform Act 1988 defines academic freedom as ‘freedom for their academic staff, within the law, to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions’.
11 A Royal Charter establishing a university sets out the powers and rules of governance of an institution and is awarded to an institution or body by the Privy Council as an act of incorporation.
12 The Committee on Higher Education (1963) Report (The Robbins Report), London: HMSO (Cmnd 2154).
13 The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 makes similar provisions in Scotland to those made in England and Wales by the Further and Higher Education Act of the same year. However, there are some important differences, reflecting distinctive Scottish educational traditions.
14 The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, published in 1997, is commonly known as the Dearing Report.
15 The conferment of university college title is regulated by section 49 of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) act 1992.
16 Section 48 of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act.
17 The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, Applications for the Grant of Taught Degree Awarding Powers, Research Degree Awarding Powers and University Title: Institutional Guidance on Procedure.
19 See Subject Map Further and Higher Education in Scotland.
20 Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992, c.37.

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Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: SB 02-02 Higher and Further Education Institutions


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