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“We have really talented Scottish students that slip through our fingers because we did not have enough places for them”: interview with new principal of RCS

September 6, 2014

This recent post  noted signs that the capping of places appears to be having more effect on the ability of the Scottish system  to respond to demand for higher education than is the case in other parts of the UK, and this one that in the highly-planned Scottish system, there is a greater need to consider whether provision is in the “right” place.

This first interview with Jeffrey Sharkey, the new principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, published in the Herald last week, includes his observation that:

Mr Sharkey would also like to see more Scottish musical talent attending the institution.

“We are working to build so that we can take more Scottish students. One of the great sadnesses that we have at the moment, and if effects us more in music, is that we have really talented Scottish students that slip through our fingers because we did not have enough places for them,” he said.

“So we are seeing what we can do about that. We want to be a Conservatoire first for Scotland, then for the UK, for Europe and then the world, and we want to focus on all these things.”

There is nothing new in universities arguing that they should be given more scope to grow: such comments were very common a decade ago.  However,  Universities Scotland and its individual members appear to have been rather less likely to mention this, certainly in public at least, in recent years.

It may be no coincidence that it is a complete newcomer to the system – Jeffery Sharkey joins RCS from John Hopkins University –  who has raised this.  It will be interesting to see whether this is the start of more debate about the capacity of the system in Scotland to respond to student demand, as England moves towards removing the cap on recruitment completely.

The very large cost differential faced by students leaving Scotland to study (in contrast, say, to the situation currently applying for Welsh students with their portable fee grant) means that the question of capacity is particularly pertinent for RCS and other institutions who are the sole provider of certain forms of higher education in Scotland.  If a Scottish student wants a conservatoire education and cannot get into RCS, their only alternative will be to apply to one of the specialist colleges elsewhere in the UK and take on the much higher debt involved.  Rather than missing out entirely, taking on more income contingent loan might of course still be the better choice (as argued here). But RCS is unusually well-placed in the Scottish system to identify, in numbers and indeed even by name,  some of the well-enough qualified students whom the current Scottish system is failing to accommodate and pushing towards entry into a more expensive system.

 

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