Byline: Andrew Picken Scottish Political Correspondent
SOME of Scotland's universities could be forced to merge to help pay for Alex Salmond's promise not to charge Scots tuition fees.
Ministers want powers to cut the number of colleges and universities with a view to creating more regional institutions.
The move comes amid growing concern that Scotland's higher education sector is facing a [pounds sterling]260million a year funding gap as a result of the pledge to keep education free north of the Border while rival institutions in England can charge fees.
The Scottish Funding Council, which gives Scottish Government grants to colleges and universities, will carry out a review of the institutions but ministers will have the final say.
The proposals to give ministers more powers over universities could see a situation where institutions in the same city, such as Glasgow Caledonian University and Strathclyde University, are ordered to merge.
The merger plan was part of wideranging changes to the higher education sector unveiled yesterday which will also see a guaranteed training place for all 16 to 19-year-olds.
There will be faster progression from college to university, stronger links between colleges and employers and a minimum income of [pounds sterling]7,000 for the poorest students. …