Scotland has 19 higher education institutions, ranging from ancient universities like St Andrews to those established in the last 25 years. Some have a very specific focus, such as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. What they all have in common is providing a massive range of opportunities for learning and research.
I’m currently working with a small team on an audit of higher education in Scotland. Although we did an audit of estates management in higher education in 2007, taking a broader overview of the higher education is an interesting new area for Audit Scotland.
Higher education institutions receive a lot of public money from a variety of sources. Audit Scotland’s role is to look at the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of how this funding is used by universities. Basically, are they making best use of public money?
Right now, I and the rest of the audit team are talking to people across the sector to learn more about the public funding aspects, including what works well and whether there are issues or concerns. This will let us develop clear aims and objectives for the audit that focus on things that matter.
In the meantime, our first aim is to identify the public money going into universities (teaching, research, student funding, etc.) how it fits together, and how it is contributing to knowledge creation, economic growth and to society in other important ways. We want to set out as clearly as we can where the money goes and what we get for it. It will be very useful to have this full picture; for the public, MSPs, and the institutions themselves.
Everyone we’ve spoken to has been very open, and their commitment to making a difference through teaching and research is obvious. We’re finding it fascinating, as it’s been a while since most of us attended university! Big issues emerging so far include the financial sustainability of universities, widening access to higher education, and student fees and loans. It’s a very complicated picture though, and we’re aware that we can’t examine every detail, or understand all there is to know about universities.
We hope to report on our findings in early summer 2016. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for future blogs from myself and the team on this exciting new work.
About the author
Gillian Battison, Audit Manager, has worked at Audit Scotland since 1990 in different roles and on a wide range of audits. She is CIPFA qualified and most recently led an audit looking at borrowing and treasury management in councils.