Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Deeply flawed consultation

Letter to Herald 14 June 2011

Dear Sir,
What impact would the loss of Liberal Arts courses at Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus have on the ‘national and regional community’? The university’s Consultation Panel considered this question earlier this year and concluded that the impact on the regional community would be minimal. Presumably the Panel concluded there would be no impact on the national community, since this part of the question was left unanswered.

In reaching this conclusion, the Panel must have overlooked a 2007 study on the regional and national importance of the Dumfries campus titled ‘Crichton’s Role - Boosting capacity, community and economic activity in south west Scotland’. The key finding of this detailed and comprehensive study was that:

‘By far the greatest economic impact of the Crichton campus will be achieved through the universities’ effect on the size and age structure of the regional population – by persuading younger people to stay in or to move to Dumfries and Galloway. To achieve this [the university] must continue to increase the number of young people recruited to courses and graduating, which entails broadening, deepening and lengthening the educational offering.’

This finding was based on analysis of the region’s demographic ‘Age Bomb’. As I explained in the Herald at the time (1 November 2007), ‘each year Dumfries and Galloway loses hundreds of young people beginning their working lives and gains hundreds of older people ending their working lives. The problem is that as the working-age population declines, so the ability to keep the regional economy going also declines. This is the Age Bomb that must be defused if the £700m gap between wealth created and wealth consumed in Dumfries and Galloway is to decrease in size.’

Without its popular Liberal Arts courses, student numbers at Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus will decline. As a consequence, as the 2007 study explains in minute detail, there will be fewer well educated young people staying in (or attracted to) the region. This will have a cumulative impact on the demographic structure of Dumfries and Galloway and will, since the regional economy is already less than self-sufficient, increasingly require the ’national community’ to subsidise the region through explicit methods (like government deficits and grants) or implicit ones (like pension transfers).

It is possible that, had the Glasgow University’s Consultation Panel considered the 2007 Dumfries campus study, they would have been able to refute its findings. But they did not, and so will present a deeply flawed report to the University Court on 22 June.


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