Go Higher: Scotland - A History of Academic Excellence ; Philip Schofield Surveys Scotland's Distinctive University System, from the Medieval St Andrews to the Online Millennium Institute in Inverness
Schofield, Philip, The Independent (London, England)
Scotland is largely unknown beyond its border. The English are familiar with Scotch whisky and the kilt, know of its magnificent scenery, and have heard of the haggis without knowing what's in it.
But few people know of Scotland's ancient tradition of learning, the number and quality of its universities and colleges, and its history of being the home of groundbreaking discoveries - and discoverers.
Over the next three years, though, chances are you will find out a lot more. As we now know about the wilderness of Patagonia thanks to his gap year, Prince William's arrival on the campus of St Andrews University this September is sure to attract attention.
First some facts: Scotland has one third of the total UK landmass but less than one tenth of its people. Mostly narrow and elongated, the travelling distances from north to south often catch visitors unawares. North from London, the border town of Carlisle is just over 300 miles away, but less than half way to the north coast of the Scottish mainland. To reach the far north of Shetland, you must travel a further 180 miles. You are then as far from London as you are in Milan or Salzburg.
Most Scots live in the central belt, embracing Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling, and on the north-east coast from St Andrews to Aberdeen. Most Scottish universities are found in this area. Each city has a distinctive character but is close to superb scenery.
But it is the educational opportunities that will be at the forefront of students' minds in this, the run-up to exam results. The academic institutions differ widely. They range from the oldest, St Andrews, which combines ancient traditions with academic excellence and unusual flexibility of courses, to the newest: the proposed University of the Highlands and Islands, now called the UHI Millennium Institute which achieved Institute of Higher Education status last December. This is a collegiate institution of 11 colleges and two research bodies spread across the Highlands from Shetland to Skye, Inverness to the Outer Hebrides, all linked by state-of-the-art information and communications technologies.
Scotland has always had its own and very different legal and educational systems, and now has its own parliament. This new devolved centre of government is already flexing its independent muscles - to the advantage of the Scottish student.
Today, just under half of young Scots enter higher education, compared with 32 per cent in England, and Scotland produces the highest number of graduates per head in the European Union. Only Norway and the US do better.
The high numbers of Scottish students entering their "home" universities are set to be maintained - at a time when there are genuine fears over student numbers entering English universities. The devolved Scottish assembly has moved to abolish tuition fees for Scottish students studying in Scotland - to be replaced with a "graduate endowment tax". Combined with financial assistance from the Scottish Executive and the Royal Bank of Scotland, access to higher education for the poorest students is set to be widened.
Scotland offers a far broader education than the rest of the UK. An undergraduate honours degree is Scotland takes four years. Students tend not to specialise in their first year or two. Unfortunately, this used to mean that students had to pay for the extra year of living costs than in the rest of the UK. However, maintenance grants for Scottish students are due to be restored next month.
Widening access will help to maintain Scotland's tradition of intellectual curiosity. The quality of education may explain Scots inventiveness, with the telephone and television among the country's claims to fame.
In turn, this production of highly educated and skilled graduates should beef up what is already a healthy and varied Scottish economy. Once …
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Publication information: Article title: Go Higher: Scotland - A History of Academic Excellence ; Philip Schofield Surveys Scotland's Distinctive University System, from the Medieval St Andrews to the Online Millennium Institute in Inverness. Contributors: Schofield, Philip - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: August 7, 2001. Page number: 2,. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.